Alachua County Commissioners considering changes to remote public comment

Published: Nov. 2, 2021 at 5:53 PM EDT
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Remote public comment at county commission meetings has been a useful resource during the pandemic. But now, county commissioners say they are worried about the cost.

Over the past six months, Alachua County commissioners have fielded 480 public-comment calls at their meetings.

They’ve also spent $78,500 during that stretch for Kearns and West’s phone service that allows people to call-in. That equates to $163 per call.

I spoke with Alachua County Communications Director Mark Sexton who explains how Kearns and West bills the county.

He says “its an hourly rate. It doesn’t matter how many phone calls you get. None of that matters. Their cost is their cost.”

Commissioners want to continue to be accessible, but are evaluating if its worth the price tag.

Sexton says the commission views things “from an inclusionary point of view. Is this service that we’re providing ultimately a reasonable cost?”

City manager Michelle Lieberman explained commissioners are not considering eliminating public comment from meetings, but looking at “how do we provide the access and in what manner and so I just wanted to be clear we’re not trying to diminish transparency or diminish you know anybody’s access to the board or county staff.”

Commissioners suggested some alternatives to what they’re currently doing, such as using it for emergencies only, or being billed monthly versus by the hour.

At January’s board meeting, Mark Sexton will present the latest cost-model from Kearns and West to commissioners to see if they will move forward with them in the future.

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