By Amanda Ensinger
As many public meetings are held remotely, residents in Prairie Township are expressing frustration about asking questions. Recently, leadership in Prairie Township discussed this issue and urged staff to find a solution.
“Where are we at related to meeting technology and improving our system so residents can participate in our meetings and ask questions while the meeting is going on?” trustee Steve Kennedy asked. “Where are we at upgrading our software so residents can have communications with the board during the meetings?”
Residents have been voicing concern about not having their voices heard during the meetings and submitting comments and questions on Facebook during the meetings that are not answered. According to Prairie Township Administrator Rob Peters, he cannot run the board meeting and be a moderator at the same time.
“We could upgrade our software and unmute residents during the meeting and allow them to speak to the board and ask a question,” Peters said. “However, we would need to train staff on this software and pay a staff member to attend the meeting and be a moderator for questions.”
Currently, the board meetings are closed to the public and live-streamed via Facebook. Residents must submit questions or comments before the meeting to the township and those questions are then addressed during the meeting. However, residents are not sure what questions they have until they see what transpires during the meetings or they have follow-up questions related to actions taken.
The township is looking at the use of technology for virtual hearings for the board of zoning appeals and believes they can use the same technology for township meetings.
“What is the cost to have an extra person at our meetings?” Kennedy asked.
Kennedy expressed concern about having to pay a staff member to cover these meetings. Trustee Cathy Schmelzer suggested that an employee could just come in later on meeting days and attend the meeting during their regular work hours, so the township doesn’t have to pay them additional to moderate the meetings.
“If they wanted to do that, we have to give them the option.” Peters said.
Peters also said it is not a legal requirement that residents be allowed to ask questions live during the meetings.
The township has had other issues with their public meetings since closing them to the public and live streaming. Some of the other issues have including having the meetings muted, causing residents to not be able to hear what is going on, as well as having staff members not mute themselves when they are done presenting. This has caused issues hearing other speakers.
Residents also expressed frustration that a public speaker was allowed to attend a meeting to give a presentation while they are not allowed to attend in person.
As COVID-19 cases continue to increase in Franklin County, the board said they will continue to take precautions at public meetings to ensure the safety of township staff.
“As COVID cases increase, there may be a possibility that we go back to having remote meetings as well,” Kennedy said.