County meetings will stay on Zoom for awhile

Increase in citizen participation noted

The Grays Harbor County Commissioners plan to continue using remote meeting software to responsibly-distance for their meetings into 2021. While they have used the popular software Zoom during most of the pandemic, the commissioners also discussed alternatives during their workshop this week.

The topic of the meetings was brought up by Commission Chairwoman Vickie Raines shortly after adoption of their new meeting room policies and COVID-19 protocols for the large commission meeting room in the Courthouse Annex where commissioners held most of their formal meetings before the pandemic. Raines said she had been asked why the commissioners had not started meeting in-person.

“What I was told is that if we were in our positions in the meeting room, we would have to wear masks, and then nobody would be able to understand us very well,” said Commissioner Jill Warne.

The two newest commissioners, Jill Warne and Kevin Pine, were elected after remote meetings became routine and have not yet sat at meetings in the traditional commission meeting chambers. Raines noted that their regular meeting room requires a specific amount of space to physically distance both the guests, and the commissioners. She said to the new commissioners that the dais, or the area where the commissioners sit, can get crowded during some meetings.

“Although (we) have not met up there as a commission, we’ve got the clerk, all three commissioners, usually a Deputy Prosecutor and or prosecutor,” said Raines, adding that the dais is crowded enough that staff usually sits in the audience with anyone else wanting to attend the meeting.

Raines noted that the multi-platform nature also streamlines their meetings, “Staff can tune in from the health department or the fairgrounds, like Mike Bruner, and have it just on in the background to be able to listen to the meeting.” Before the pandemic, staff with agenda items would leave their offices and travel to the county administration building for the commissioner’s meeting, taking them away from other work.

Clerk of the Board Jenna Amsbury did note that their previous system, AV Capture All, allows for the recording and online viewing of their meetings, but it does not offer the interactive component built into most meeting software.

Warne added that, “once we go back to meetings in person we still should maintain the zoom platform just because it’s a lot more accessible for some people. And I’m hearing that we’re getting a lot more participation now than we did when it was in-person only.”

“Prior to Zoom meetings, we had the staff that was on the agenda for an issue, and then typically we would have The Daily World and two radio stations,” said Raines, adding “occasionally, if there was a hot topic item about something then we could have another five to 10 to 50.” She also suggested Microsoft Teams since the county is moving to Microsoft Office 365 and it would be included in that platform.

For now, the commissioners will continue to hold their meetings remotely over Zoom, with links in the agendas that can be found on the county website.