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Sun, May 31, 2020
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County meetings are must-see, must-answer, public events

I'm never going to be someone who tells you that government meetings are must-see, primetime viewing, but the Franklin County Board of Commissioners' April meeting produced 253 views, its May 5 meeting generated 107 views and, at press time, its May 18 meeting had generated 116 views.

Of course, I have no idea which viewers watched every second: the first meeting lasted just over 2 hours, the second lasted nearly two and a half hours and Monday night's meeting has set the record -- so far -- at four hours, 23 minutes and 10 seconds.

To be honest, I think these meetings run so long because our leaders are sitting comfortably in their homes.

It's a bit easier to endure a meeting that runs to almost 11:30 p.m. when you know that right after adjourning, you can walk down the hallway and plop down in your own bed.

But, I digress.

My point in all this is that, while COVID-19 has essentially turned all of our lives upside down, it has created a convenience for residents and others who want a front-row seat to our leaders in action.

With those viewing the Youtube livestream, and those following along via Zoom, there's probably been more eyes on Franklin County government than at any time during the 18 years I've spent covering meetings in Franklin County.

And, with those eyes comes expectation.

Three folks spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, raising issues and questions that certainly deserve answers.

It's generally the board's modus operandi that they don't directly answer questions during the session, but they take them into account, investigate the query and respond -- in time.

At least, that's what's supposed to happen.

Since public commenters have a bigger platform, it'll be interesting to see how county leaders and staff address their concerns.

Here's a sampling of the issues raised Monday night, including any answers that were provided.

Former Bunn EMS member Scott Strickland, who has made improving the county's lackluster emergency radio communications system a personal crusade, reminded the board that "we're still having some radio issues out here in the community with paging and stuff," he said.

Among other things, White Level resident Jeremy Neal echoed those concerns.

More importantly, he wondered about the county's ability to exact some financial recourse from Harris Corporation -- the entity that installed the system back in 2012 and is responsible for upgrades that were supposed to bolster the system.

Depending on who you speak to, those upgrades have fallen flat.

"... We went to Phase 2 in order for [the system] to work with the consoles at the 911 center," Neal told commissioners.

"Once that was enacted, there was an issue, a problem that we could not use Phase 2 and we went back to Phase 1.

"We have either paid for or have paid toward Phase 2 with Harris," he said.

"My question is: 'Why could we not, as a county, financially penalize them for [service] we have either paid for or have agreed to pay for, that we are not receiving?"

That's a darn good question.

There was no answer provided on Monday night. However, a response could be coming soon.

Back in February, the county issued Harris Corporation an official demand letter, telling them to fix problems by the end of April. Because of COVID-19, Harris asked for and received an extension until June 8.

I guess we'll find out then if Harris has done enough to satisfy first responders and the county, or whether this becomes a legal matter.

Inquiring minds want to know.

Finally, Youngsville-area resident Frank Winstead wondered if a certain advisory board was: Of the people of Franklin County, by the people of Franklin County for the people of Franklin County.

Basically, the answer is: Not necessarily, yes and yes.

Cardinal Innovations, the region's behavioral health managed care organization, is going through reorganization, prompting each of the counties in its catchment area to re-establish its Community Advisory Council.

The council serves as an avenue for members in the 20-county area to present their community's needs to the Regional Health Councils -- which takes feedback from the CAC's to develop a regional approach to mental healthcare.

During Monday's meeting, commissioners were tasked with making appointments to its CAC. Franklin County already had members who served in a similar capacity before the reorganization, so they were given opportunities to continue serving or new folks were found.

Commissioners were poised to appoint nine people to the board, but Winstead was concerned about the board's makeup.

Six, he said, are registered to vote in Franklin County. Two were registered to vote in Wake County. And one, he said, was not registered to vote in either.

"... Do two Wake County residents care so much about the health care in Franklin County that they want to represent a community they do not even live in?" Winstead said.

" ... Why is it so hard for Franklin County government to find Franklin County residents willing to speak for Franklin County on local issues, and particularly issues related to health care?"

Later in the meeting, Commissioner Cedric Jones, a member of the CAC, spoke to Winstead's concern.

There was no apparent requirement that required a member to live in Franklin County, he said.

And, most importantly, while they may not live in the county, they're keenly in tune with issues of health care in Franklin County.

"Some of the committee members are professionals that may work in Franklin County, but don't live in Franklin County," Jones said. "So, they're all involved in Franklin County every day. Some people don't live in Franklin County.

"We've got people who work in Franklin County but don't live here, from [the department of social services] to the health department to everywhere else.

"These committee members, they work here every day."

So, there's an answer.

As someone who essentially makes a living keeping an eye on what our leaders do in the light -- and sometimes in the dark -- it's refreshing to see I'm not the only one paying attention.

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