How can you hold a public hearing without letting the public into the meeting? That was one question Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips, Commissioner Skip Alston and Guilford County staff dealt with on Tuesday, March 24 when they met to discuss how to handle the county’s upcoming Thursday, April 2 meeting.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the county has excluded all members of the public from attending its meetings. The board held a meeting on Thursday, March 19 with no members of the public present, however, the April 2 meeting and future meetings will include public hearings and the county is attempting to use technology to allow public participation in those hearings – as well as to allow the board to hear speakers from the floor at the start of the meetings. At the March 14 county commissioners meeting, the board simply did away with the speakers from the floor, but that will now be back on April 2 under the new name of “speakers from the phone.”

At the March 24 staff meeting, Guilford County Clerk to the Board Robin Keller said that Guilford County had purchased software that would allow people to call in and get put into a queue. It would assign callers a PIN, like a bankcard code, that they could enter when staff notified them on the conference call that it was their turn to speak.

Keller said that some of the hardware the county needed was on backorder – because so many buyers were seeking the items, but she added that Guilford County had borrowed the critical piece of hardware they need from a local church.

It’s a sort of patchwork solution from county staff but Keller seemed optimistic that it will work.

“We are testing it today – I don’t want to say it is ready to go,” Keller said. “But our goal is to have it ready to go by next week.“

According to Keller, up to 100 people can call in and speak on the system and an unlimited number can listen.

For those who want to follow the meeting, Keller said, they will have the option of watching on local cable television, viewing a live stream on the internet or by calling in and listening to the meeting on the phone.