The Transylvania Times -

By Derek McKissock
News Editor 

Board Changes Meeting Schedule – Brevard NC


February 16, 2017

In March, the Transylvania County Board of Commissioners will start holding one of its two monthly meetings during the day.

During their regular meeting Monday, a majority of commissioners voted to hold one meeting at 9 a.m. on the second Tuesday and another meeting at 7 p.m. on the fourth Monday of each month. The commissioners were holding their meetings at 7 p.m. on the second and fourth Monday of the month.

On Monday, County Manager Jaime Laughter said staff were directed to propose an alternate meeting schedule, including a daytime meeting.

Staff looked at several factors, she said, and came up with the suggested new times.

Holding a day meeting may capture another segment of the population that prefers to not attend evening meetings, Laughter said.

She noted that other elected bodies hold similar meeting schedules. Henderson, Craven, Davidson, Durham, Gates, Harnett, Johnston, Lenoir, Watauga and Yadkin counties are among those that hold commissioner meetings at least once during the day each month.

Commissioner Page Lemel made the motion for Transylvania County to change its scheduled. Commissioner Mike Hawkins seconded the motion.

Prior to voting, Commissioner Kelvin Phillips spoke against changing the schedule.

Phillips said that when the county had three major plants with different shifts he could “understand” having alternate meeting times.

He said that with the plants no longer operating he’s not sure the change will increase participation, but it could decrease.

He said those who may have a day off may have other things they have or need to do rather than going to a meeting during the day.

Commissioner Jason Chappell had similar concerns about the impact it could have on those who work during the day and wanted to attend a meeting but couldn’t. He also said it may discourage those who have daytime jobs from running for commissioner.

Lemel said that most meeting attendees are those who are retired and have finished their careers.

She said that some may not come to the meetings because they don’t like to drive at night.

“(I) see this as a positive because other counties have been able to increase their attendance by having (meetings) during the daytime,” Lemel said, noting that Henderson County has had “great success.”

Lemel said it would also benefit county staff having at least one meeting during their workday.

She said the change is “not written in stone” and could be adjusted if it’s not working.

Phillips noted the N.C. Forest Service employees who were in the audience for Monday’s meeting to provide a presentation on last year’s wildfires. He said these employees, for example, work during the day and it could make it difficult for them to appear before commissioners during a daytime meeting.

Lemel said the Forest Service employees could still come to the evening meeting.

Phillips indicated that was true but the evening meeting’s agenda could become crowded to accommodate those daytime employees.

Lemel said she could see it “balancing out,” allowing those who work during the day to come before commissioners at the evening meeting.

Phillips then suggested that the proposed change should go before the public to get its feedback.

“It’s a pretty abrupt change,” he said for something that’s been done the same way for years.

Commission Chairman Larry Chapman said that sometimes the commissioner meetings go to 10 p.m. and beyond.

In a community dominated by retirees, he said, a daytime meeting would give those who want to participate more options to attend.

Like Lemel, Chapman said the schedule could be adjusted again if the daytime meeting isn’t working, and “no one shows up.”

He said he’s talked to other commissioners in the state who said their daytime meetings have increased participation.

Chapman said he’d also, at some point, like to discuss with commissioners taking their meetings to the various communities in the county.

Phillips supported having meetings in the different communities and suggested trying that approach first.

The commissioners instead chose to vote on the meeting schedule, with Chapman, Hawkins and Lemel supporting the measure, and Chappell and Phillips voting against.

Agenda Item

On Tuesday morning, Phillips contacted The Transylvania Times to say the first time he learned about the proposed meeting schedule change being on the Monday agenda was last week after the agenda packets were sent out to commissioners.

“No one talked to me about it,” said Phillips, who also reiterated the arguments against the meeting schedule change made by himself and Chappell during Monday’s meeting.

Phillips suggested the meeting schedule change was “preconceived and predetermined.”

“I want people to know that (it’s) not a kosher way to doing things,” he said.

Each of the other commissioners was then contacted to get their feedback on Phillips’ assertions.

In an email response, Lemel said that as the board’s vice chair, she and Chapman meet with Laughter regularly to discuss meeting agendas.

“I have long been interested in a daytime meeting due to my concerns that many of our citizens are reluctant to attend night meetings due to travel distances,” she said. “The chairman (Chapman) communicated with all commissioners on Jan. 29, 2017, that he would like to look at our meeting schedule and consider one morning meeting and one night time meeting.

“Within that email, the chairman did request feedback from others. He and I have discussed meeting schedules, so I did not provide any direct feedback to him at that point. The staff made the suggestions of the specific days and times based on the need for agenda preparation and public notices. Based on a training class that the chairman and I attended in Raleigh on Jan. 11, 2017, ‘Rules of Procedure and Meeting Schedules’ were discussed as items for (commission boards) to consider annually.

“I feel the chairman has been very proactive in his communication with each commissioner through email updates.”

In an email response, Chappell said the only mention by email, by phone or by personal discussion he can remember receiving from commissioners that the board was going to discuss the issue was in a “very long email dated Jan. 15, 2017.”

In that email, Chapman said, according to Chappell, that “it will not be on the agenda for Monday night, but please start thinking about our future meeting schedules.”

“I have been asked in the past if it is possible to have one of our monthly meetings during the day and the other in the evening. A day meeting would enable some citizens to attend (who) do not come out at night and also it would put less strain on county staff depending on the issues,” the email from Chapman said. “One thought was to have the first meeting on a Wednesday, from (9 a.m. to 11 a.m.), and the second at our normal Monday evening. I would like to have this discussion in conjunction with an overall review of our board policies. I have asked (clerk to the board Trisha Hogan) to pull these policies together, so we can all review them and make any changes/updates that may be required. I encourage you to reread the ‘Handbook for NC County Commissioners’ written by Joseph S. Ferrell.”

Chappell said that to his knowledge no other information was shared with him regarding a possible change in the meeting schedule but “just that we were going to start thinking about it.”

Chappell said that Wednesday, Feb. 8, was when he received the email notice of the proposed agenda for Monday’s meeting.

Chappell, who has a full-time job, was also asked how the meeting schedule would impact him.

“Personally, I will be taking leave on these days or will work longer hours that day during the week, etc., to compensate for the missed time,” he said. “I am fortunate to be able to do so, while it may be necessary for me to miss a regular scheduled county commissioner meeting once in a while due to work requirements.”

He said he believes he’s never had to miss a commissioner meeting because of work requirements during the more than 12 years he’s been on the board.

“Regardless, I take my responsibility of a commissioner very seriously and took an oath to do so,” he said. “I will arrange or do what I need to do to accomplish this as much as I can.”

In an email response, Hawkins said he didn’t know the meeting schedule would be on Monday’s agenda.

“But I knew it was an issue the chairman wanted the board to consider,” he said. “(Chapman) sends information on current activities to commissioners via email and has included this item in a couple of those emails, asking if commissioners had any comments or concerns. The chairman has been very open with communication on this issue.”

In an email response, Chapman said that a number of residents had commented to him about the meeting schedule, saying a daytime meeting would allow more seniors to attend who don’t like to drive at night.

Chapman said he believed that was a “valid concern” and needed to be discussed.

“As chairman, I do not poll the other commissioners to see if they agree with the agenda items, but I do ask that if they have any agenda items they want added to let me know,” he said. “They can also add or delete them during ‘agenda modification’ at the meeting.

“Last month I sent a summary email to all commissioners, along with the county manager and clerk, and included this topic as one we needed to address. I made no comments regarding my position. I did ask all of them to let me know if they had any comments or questions. I received no comments back from any commissioner. During my weekly meetings with the county manager and clerk to discuss agenda items for our next meeting I asked that this item be included on our (Feb. 13) agenda.”

The clerk publishes the agenda, along with the agenda packet information, which includes all the background information related to an agenda topic.

This is sent to all commissioners usually by Wednesday or Thursday before the Monday meetings, so commissioners have time to review the issues, Chapman said.

“I understand Mr. Phillips has a very large number of unopened emails, and my guess is the initial email related to this issue was in his unopened emails, and I have no idea if he read the agenda packet before this or other meetings,” Chapman said. “Also, at the beginning of every meeting, we ask if there are any agenda modifications from staff or commissioners. At this time, Mr. Phillips, or any commissioner, can request we remove this item for whatever reason. No motion was made. Also, when the topic came up on the agenda there was no comment from him or others that they had not had time to review the issue, and, if so, we could have tabled it at that time if there was a vote to do so. Again, no comment was made.

“I try my best to communicate with all the commissioners in a legal manner. We do not discuss our positions on issues or collaborate in any way. I am always available via email, phone or in person or if any of them want to meet.”

Chapman said it is the board’s responsibility to represent all the county’s residents.

“I assure you that at least for the next two years that is my number one responsibility,” he said. “I will always vote what I feel best represents the feelings of the majority of our citizens regardless of how the other board members feel.”

Chapman said he is only one vote on the board. He said “many” of the commissioners are “heavily involved in a number of community organizations, sit on numerous committees, attend numerous School of Government training sessions and conferences, which are all key to serving our community and citizens.”

“When we decide to run for office, this is a commitment that I and I hope all of us make that we will work for them, and, believe, me it takes a lot of time and effort,” he said.

More from the meeting will appear in Monday’s paper.


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