The treatment of public speakers during the COVID-19 restrictions by the Guilford County Board of Commissioners and the Greensboro City Council reveals a lot about the true nature of the elected bodies.

The Greensboro City Council, which is made up of eight Democrats and one unaffiliated councilmember, has taken the COVID-19 restrictions as an opportunity to not allow any public forum speakers during its virtual meetings. Technically, they are called “speakers from the floor on non-agenda items.” Before this City Council took over in 2017, speakers from the floor were allowed at every regular meeting of the City Council.

In January 2018, Mayor Nancy Vaughan with the consent of the City Council, changed the meeting format to dedicate one meeting a month to only speakers from the floor and one meeting for the business of the city. The result was that the public was allowed to speak at one meeting a month, instead of two.

In November 2019, the City Council changed that so that some business could be conducted at the public forum meeting and a limit was set on the number of speakers before the business agenda was handled. But all of that ended in March when the statewide COVID-19 shutdown went into effect and meetings became virtual.

Since then not a single speaker from the floor has been heard at a City Council meeting, although the City Council has the ability to hear virtual speakers and does so on public hearing items. People who wish to comment are told to send emails to the City Council, but these emails are not read or even summarized at the meeting, although the notice to the public says that they will be.

The City Council found a loophole to silence the public and took it.

Across governmental plaza in the Old Guilford County Courthouse, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners with a Republican chairman and a Republican majority has taken an entirely different approach. At their meetings the public has been allowed to speak virtually to the commissioners and, perhaps more importantly, to those watching the commissioners meeting.

Now with the COVID-19 restrictions loosening, the Board of Commissioners is allowing up to 10 people to attend the meeting and speak in person at the commissioners meetings.

Both boards are operating under exactly the same restrictions from Gov. Roy Cooper, but the Republican Board of Commissioners has found a way to accommodate people who wish to be heard while the Democratic City Council has used the same restrictions as an excuse to stifle all public comment.