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CREEDMOOR — The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on many governmental meetings. Most local municipalities have turned to holding meetings via Zoom to give residents access to meetings.
That includes the Creedmoor Board of Commissioners — which has seen the length of its virtual meetings balloon as board members grapple, hours at a time, with details about city management.
Some say such long meetings are a barrier to public participation.
The meeting on April 20 lasted four hours and 50 minutes before going into a 45 minute closed session. Afterward, with much of the agenda still untouched, the commissioners recessed and scheduled a follow up meeting a week later.
There were 71 people who called in to listen to that meeting, including town staff and leaders. Far fewer were still online by the end.
“A lot of people want to hear what goes on with our local government, but most people don’t have hours on end to sit and listen to them,” said one Creedmoor resident who didn’t want to share his name so he could speak freely. “It is often like watching a hamster running on a wheel. It is not just this board, but for many years the hamster has run a lot of miles and accomplished very little.”
Resuming on April 27, the board met for another three hours and 35 minutes. Only 32 people tuned in.
Then the May 11 meeting stretched five hours and 55 minutes before a 20 minute closed session. At that meeting, the city manager presented the board with a draft budget, one of the most consequential board discussions of the year.
There were 37 people who tuned in at the start of that meeting.
The May 18 meeting was the first time the mayor, all commissioners, the city manger and the clerk had ventured back into the board room. The meeting lasted two hours and 45 minutes, and 23 people listened. The commissioners spent much of the time working to find ways to cut the budget.
The commissioners met on June 2 for three hours and 15 minutes, and 30 people — including some city leaders who tuned in via Zoom — participated virtually. The board eventually recessed their meeting until June 8.
Thirty people tuned in to the June 8 meeting, with several commissioners and town staff participating in-person. Open session lasted 5 hours and 20 minutes and was followed by a 45 minute closed session.
The budget was once again front and center as the commissioners continued to look for ways to decrease spending. They also finalized decisions that had been on their agendas for months —inspection of the Bowman Road water tank, a process to sell the land on Cannady Mill and Hester roads and a vacation policy for employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.
But by the fifth hour, the board recessed again, to resume June 10 — and then recessed yet again, coming back June 17. Before finally adjourning the June meeting, commissioners had more than a dozen hours in over four days.
“I appreciate the fact that this board wants to get down in the trenches and see how everything works, but they need to look up occasionally to see the bulldozer that is about to fill in that trench with them still in it,” the resident said.
Some have proposed the commissioners meeting once a month for a work session before coming together for the regular meeting.
“I can understand meeting for about two hours, but meeting any longer seems counterproductive,” the resident said. Not everyone’s attention span is that long.”
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story mischaracterized the remarks Mayor Bobby Wheeler made to commissioners at one meeting. Wheeler did not chastise the board for seemingly not coming prepared, as reported.