Routt County working on plans to resume in-person commissioner meetings
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Now in his fourth month as a Routt County Commissioner, Tim Redmond has yet to participate in a meeting held in the old courtroom on the third floor of the historic Routt County Courthouse.
That room is the Board of County Commissioner’s hearing room, and it has not hosted a public meeting of the county’s elected leaders in more than a year.
“I am going to be so green, and I am excited to get in there and actually see how the situation works,” Redmond said.
On Monday, commissioners directed interim County Manager Mark Collins to start planning what a return to meetings held in person would look like, when it may happen and what role the public will have. Redmond said the return to the hearing room will likely be sometime around the middle of May.
But virtual meetings have introduced a new way of communicating with the public, adding another tool to their belt, Redmond said. As is true in many jurisdictions, virtual meetings are reaching more people and garnering more participation than when meetings were held in-person.
“We have seen more participation, as in, from zero to occasionally some people participating,” Commissioner Beth Melton said in a meeting Monday. “It is pretty clear that we have more people participating when we are allowing virtual.”
Melton said she anticipated the board would still be using Zoom to allow members of the public to comment on issues to them virtually. She suggested they might need change some of the board’s policies to allow this remote participation, as it is not something they had allowed before.
The county has also purchased a video recording system to be able to record and broadcast meetings in the boardroom better than before the pandemic.
The same kind of video system is currently being used by both Oak Creek and Hayden to conduct their town board meetings. Commissioner Tim Corrigan said while it isn’t perfect, he said he hoped it would allow people to have a similar experience to virtual meetings after they start meeting together again.
One limiting factor is when each of the commissioners gets their vaccination, which would allow them to meet without wearing masks, an important point for Corrigan.
“That reading of other people’s facial expressions is really helpful in understanding beyond the actual words that are spoken by individuals,” Corrigan said.
Until they can meet without masks, Corrigan said he would prefer to continue to use Zoom and see the nonverbal cues that are easily lost with masks. He also said he doesn’t see a point to meeting in-person if the public was not allowed to be there as well.
“As far as that goes, we could all sit in our individual offices, we would still be there in person, but at least, our faces would be visible on the screen,” Corrigan said.
If commissioners are going to hold meetings with the public, Melton said it only makes sense to do that when county staff are allowed to do that as well.
There are benefits beyond just increased participation from the public as well. Redmond said virtual meetings could allow people from across the state to more easily join them or for commissioners to be more flexible with their schedules, potentially joining a meeting remotely at times.
Corrigan also said he felt the virtual interface has forced him to be “better behaved” at meetings, especially when it comes to not interrupting or talking over each other. In the past, county employees have told Corrigan it has been hard to make a proper record of meetings in person because of these interruptions.
Commissioners also want to change some of the furniture in the meeting room, potentially finding a table where they can look across to each other, rather than sitting in a line as they had done before.
“Just like everything else, we just need to wait another month or two, and I think we will be in a position where it just wont be that much of a concern,” Corrigan said.
To reach Dylan Anderson, call 970-871-4247 or email danderson@SteamboatPilot.com.
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