LEONARDTOWN, Md. — “This means that we are doing things right, that’s a good sign,” Commissioner Eric Colvin[R-District 1] jokingly said after nobody participated in the public forum that the Board of County Commissioners(BOCC) hosted on the evening of July 14.
While waiting approximately five minutes to see if anyone would call into the meeting with their thoughts on any subject, the BOCC talked among themselves about some local topics that have come up recently. Topics included the recent reallocation of funds to fix the Charlotte Hall Park and Ride, some recent closures that were announced such as the St. Mary’s County Fair, and even a new Italian restaurant that will be filling the spot where Smokey Joes on the Town used to be.
Social distancing forces people to now participate in public hearings from home via a phone call or a prior video submission, and this likely helped deter participation from the live event. Colvin recognized this as a “side effect” of the digital transition, and similarly to what other members of the board have also said, agrees that feedback is an important part of their job.
“I think an unfortunate side effect of required distancing is that it makes it harder for people to feel connected and engaged in their local government,” Colvin said. “All of the commissioners want to hear from citizens so even if people missed the public forum I would encourage them to email us, call our office or even mail us a letter. You don’t have to wait for a public forum to share your opinion with us, we all take it very seriously.”
However, having no public input certainly does cause less technological problems. At their April 21 public budget hearing, turnout was surprisingly low, and some of those who called in were hard to understand or hear. At the time, Commissioner Mike Hewitt[R-District 2] even recognized that the virtual hearing process that night “could have been better.”
Photo from the budget hearing on April 21, 2020. (via Zach Hill)
With no turnout from the 12th largest jurisdiction in Maryland, with an estimated population of 113,510, who in recent months have faced major issues, the BOCC is getting less and less input on the job they are doing.
“We need your input,” Commissioner President Randy Guy[R] said just before closing the public hearing. “It’s an important part of our deliberation and our decision making.”
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