I missed the September and October County Commission meetings. I didn’t intend to have such an extended vacation from them, but circumstances worked to give me a bonus missed meeting when my granddaughter fell and broke her two front teeth. She’s fine, thank God. The other meeting was missed due to a scheduled vacation. 

Maybe I didn’t really realize how frustrating the meetings had become, having gotten used to them over time. Perhaps the break helped me to view Monday’s meeting through fresh eyes. I’m sorry to say I wasn’t pleasantly surprised by anything during Monday’s meeting.

Grainger County Commissioners met in their first combined virtual/physical hybrid meeting Monday, April 13. As the months of COVID-19 accommodations have dragged on, nothing has been done to improve the way meetings are held. 

Commissioners who attend via telephone call can’t hear what’s happening, can’t easily comment or be involved in discussions about issues, and those in the courtroom can’t easily hear what’s being said by those on the other end of the line. 

With so many six-year-olds who are capable of attending, and even hosting, virtual online meetings, why is it our county leadership can’t seem to manage to set up a system of meeting attendance that is more functional?  

Why has no effort been made to install some sort of screen where commissioners who are not physically present in the room can be seen via webcam? A cheap TV would work as a monitor. If it’s because we have so many commissioners who are incapable of logging in online, there’s a fix for that too. They can drive themselves to the Justice Center and sit in another office where someone could set up a computer for them to use for the meeting. For those who are truly technologically illiterate, someone could log them in and all they would have to do is sit down and actually pay attention to what is happening. 

It’s ridiculous that eight months into this fiasco Grainger County Commission meetings are still so antiquated that they are only one step above smoke signals, in an effort to maintain social distancing. There is no excuse for it. 

The county received more than $800,000 in COVID-19 funds (free money) to pay for such things, yet instead of taking steps to improve commission meetings, which have actually been affected by COVID-19, county leaders have chosen to use the money to supplement the budget and cover day-to-day expenses which are not new to the county.

While it’s not a bad idea to supplement the budget with the COVID-19 money, refusing to do anything with the money to fix the problems actually caused by COVID-19 is asinine. 

Refusing to purchase a $230 TV and use Zoom, WebX, Google Meet or some other application to have real meetings involving all commissioners is a slap in the face to the citizens who elected these people to represent them. 

Citizens deserve to have their elected representative actually do the job of representing them by being completely involved in considering issues and decisions facing the county. It’s bad enough that when meetings are held with all commissioners present in person that most of them aren’t paying attention to what is going on, or that some of them are only in the office to work their own personal agenda. Who ever thought it could get worse?

So, who exactly is responsible for allowing this to continue month after month? Is it Mayor Mike Byrd? Is it Commission Chairman Johnny Baker? Perhaps blame could be assigned to them due to their roles as leaders, but considering an entire board of 15 adults who apparently (and maybe mistakenly) believe they are intelligent and mature enough to represent their friends and neighbors in making vital decisions that will affect the whole county hasn’t bothered to take any steps to improve the situation, I think we can safely blame them all. 

For once they should actually do something. Even if it’s only something tiny, like improving their ridiculous current commission meeting method. 

What is the problem? Are they afraid if they actually accomplish something useful we citizens will expect them to repeat the effort in the future? Never fear. Citizens have been conditioned to not expect too much. 

Something needs to be done about the current way meetings are held. There’s no excuse for continuing in the current manner. The money is there, fix the problem. 

Tracey Wolfe

Editor