ELLSWORTH — The Hancock County Commissioners decided at the board’s semi-monthly meeting Tuesday to begin meeting in person again in their quarters at the Hancock County Courthouse, but not without a fair amount of discussion about the details.
The commissioners have been meeting via the online conferencing platform Zoom since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
In-person meetings will resume with the board’s Tuesday, July 20, meeting.
“I’m all for meeting [in person] again,” said Commissioner John Wombacher.
“This is awfully convenient, but the proper way is to meet in person,” said Commissioner Paul Paradis, who resides in Bar Harbor, which is perhaps the epicenter of summer traffic congestion.
Paradis said meeting in person “makes for a better meeting and better interaction.”
Chairman Bill Clark asked, “Are we allowing general public admission?”
“I think I’m open to it being back the way it was,” said Wombacher, adding he would like an effort to also offer the meeting online if the technology is in place.
One result of the board meeting via Zoom was that it had more public attendance and interaction. Generally, members of the public rarely attend a county commission meeting and often only if they have a grievance to air with the board.
Deputy County Administrator Rebekah Knowlton asked the board what its expectations are for department heads giving presentations. “Do you want them present or do you want to give them a choice?” to participate remotely.
“Out of fairness, if we accommodate department heads, we need to accommodate the public,” Paradis said.
Clark wondered if the board would allow the public attending the meeting remotely to comment on proceedings or just listen.
“If you go to the city of Ellsworth, you can watch the process, but you can’t interact,” the chairman said.
The county has been having its technology coordinator work on a plan to allow the public to interact with the proceedings remotely.
“If it’s a disaster, we can change,” Wombacher said.
“We need to at least try,” said County Administrator Scott Adkins.
Clark said the commissioners would allow the public to be on an honor system with masks when attending in-person.
“We’re going to ask that the public and department heads who haven’t been vaccinated wear masks,” Clark said, noting that all three commissioners have received COVID-19 vaccines.
“That’s not what the law says,” Paradis said.
“I think that’s the responsible thing to do,” said Adkins. “The courts have gone that route as well.”
In other business, the commissioners met with Kitty Barbee, owner of Barbee Business Services, who is helping the board navigate the expenditure of $5.3 million that Hancock County received from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds established by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Hancock County is slated to receive another $5.3 million in 2022.
“I think you’re going to be hit with a lot of requests and a lot of emails,” said Barbee. “I think so much of this is setting up a process that’s going to make it easier for the commissioners to get through this.”
Barbee suggested creating a spreadsheet to list all the potential projects for the funds so each one can be examined to see if the project meets the criteria the U.S. Treasury Department has set for the funds.
“I like your plan of attack,” replied Paradis.
The board will be meeting with Barbee again at the July 20 meeting.