The North Wilkesboro and Wilkesboro governing bodies are changing certain aspects of their meetings as part of efforts to help control the spread of the coronavirus.
The North Wilkesboro Board of Commissioners has a work session at 7:15 p.m. today (Thursday) in the commissioners’ board room of Town Hall. To maintain social distancing, public access to the meeting will be limited to the first five members of the public entering the meeting space.
North Wilkesboro Town Manager Wilson Hooper said that due to a prohibition on gatherings of 10 or more people, enacted Wednesday for all three towns in Wilkes, it may be necessary to limit public access even more so appropriate Town of North Wilkesboro staff can attend and not cause the limit to be exceeded.
For the first time, the North Wilkesboro board meeting will be live streamed via Facebook Live on the town’s page (facebook.com/NorthWilkesboroNC). The live feed will be archived under the page’s collection of videos for later streaming.
On the Thursday meeting agenda is a discussion of alternative meeting arrangements for future meetings. The board will be presented with three options for public meetings to comply with social distancing practices and the state open meetings statutes:
• virtual meetings under which the board uses Skype or some other video conferencing platform for meetings, so long as meetings are properly advertised and the public is provided a link to watch meetings;
• reduced meeting schedule that meets the state requirement of at least one regular meeting a month with a public input session. The board will consider consolidating its budget work sessions scheduled for March 31 and April 2 into its regular meeting set for April 7;
• limit public access to in-person meetings, which is allowed under a municipal’s emergency powers. Under normal circumstances, the public has a right to attend meetings under the state’s open meetings law, but state case law has held that a board does not have to accommodate everyone who wants to attend.
Trey Allen, associate professor of public law and government with the UNC School of Government, concluded in a blog he wrote Wednesday that “it may be possible to justify” the banning of in-person attendance at municipal board meetings during the coronavirus emergency if “reasonable alternative means are available for observing the meeting.”
Wilkesboro Town Manager Ken Noland said Wednesday that the town council’s monthly work sessions and regular meetings would be moved from Town Hall to the Wilkesboro Civic Center. The times remain unchanged at 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Noland said the council members would meet in a room separated from members of the public, who would be “socially distanced in chairs” while watching a live feed of the meeting in the main lobby.
“We’ll do tests beforehand” to ensure everything is working and will “restrict the head count” as required, which now is nine or less.
Noland said he anticipated a substantial number of people at a public hearing concerning a revised town sign ordinance during the April 6 council meeting. “If that’s the case, I’ll recommend tabling (the hearing) until our next meeting” on May 4.
He said that town committee meetings went to virtual instead of in-person last week.
The next meeting of the parks and recreation committee is at Town Hall at 5:15 p.m. on Monday, but Noland said he isn’t not concerned about a crowd gathering because the public typically doesn’t attend such meetings.
The next meeting of the Wilkes County commissioners isn’t scheduled until April 7 and no decisions have been made yet about any changes, said a spokesman for the commissioners.