The Greensboro City Council is scheduled to hold its annual public hearing on the proposed budget on Tuesday, June 2 beginning at 5:30 p.m.
Because of COVID-19, this public hearing is different in that it will be a virtual public hearing, but it is also different from the previous virtual public hearings the City Council has held.
At the virtual public hearing on the 2020-2021 budget, the general public has not been notified that they have the right to speak. In fact, only a tiny percentage of the population of Greensboro was made aware of that right.
When asked about this, City Councilmember Justin Outling said, “The public should be allowed to participate in the public hearing.”
He added that there should be some method established for the public to provide contemporaneous comments during the public hearing.
He also noted that the current method for the public to participate by email has always been available to the public and that even a virtual public hearing should allow the public more venues to communicate.
In previous public hearings on zoning and other issues where the City Council, before taking a vote is required by state law to hold an advertised public hearing, the city has notified the public on how to speak at the virtual meeting.
City Attorney Chuck Watts said, “I still don’t believe that there is any legal requirement that we have verbal communication with the public. I don’t think there is any requirement for face-to-face – or Zoom-to-Zoom or whatever you want to call it – participation.”
Watts said that all the people who submitted written comments were contacted and asked if they wanted to speak at the meeting and that one person will be speaking at the meeting.
However, contacting the 14 people who submitted written comments and only allowing those 14 the opportunity to speak at the public hearing is far different from putting out a notice to the public that anyone can speak.
Plus, there is another issue that calls into question the legality of the public hearing. State law requires not only that the public hearing be held, but that it be advertised, and the advertisement for the public hearing states that email comments must be received by noon on Monday, June 1.
By state law comments have to be accepted for 24 hours after the public hearing is held. The official City Council agenda for the June 2 meeting was corrected Friday, May 29 to reflect the state law, but the print advertisements had reportedly already appeared so didn’t reflect the compliance with state law.