June 2, 2021 Camden County Meeting at 10:00 a.m.

This one was a strange one.

On June 2, 2021, I attended a meeting at 9:00 a.m. This meeting was in the Old Courthouse in the same room where the Commissioners have their meetings.

This seemed to be an open public meeting because:

  • Commissioners Gohagan and Williams were present. This was a quorum of the Camden County Commission.
  • It was in the Commission Meeting Room.
  • They didn’t kick me out when I sat down.

Unfortunately, unlike most open public meetings of the Camden County Commission, this meeting was not posted or announced publicly.

Three representatives from Co-Mo Connect were present and they had a bunch of maps spread out on the table. There was also a map of Camden County on the projection screen.

Commissioners Gohagan and Williams were present. The Tax Assessor, the County Auditor, and Charles McElyea (Legal Counsel to the Commission) were also there. Stephanie and I were in the audience. Another woman was sitting behind the Commission desk, but I don’t know her name.

There was no formal opening of the meeting and this seemed more like a general meeting around the map table. The Co-Mo Connect representative explained that the map divided Camden County into areas which then were associated with a general count of residences. It sounded like the map would be used to determine service density in Camden County.

Much of the discussion was between various parties around the table and at times there were multiple discussions going on. Here is what I could glean from it.

The Co-Mo Connect representatives described their need to interact with various power companies in Camden County. Apparently, certain power companies are easier to work with for broadband service than other companies. They stated they had installed the broadband service in Old Kinderhook using “micro-trenches”.

Remembering back to previous meetings, Camden County will receive approximately $8.9 million in federal funding relief money. This money can currently only be spent on certain restricted projects. One of them is broadband. The Co-Mo Connect representatives stated they have not been impacted too badly by shortages because they pre-bought a lot of materials last year. They also mentioned a contract deadline of 2024 and a project completion requirement of 2026. These were the requirements mentioned at previous meetings for the federal relief money.

Mack’s Creek and Stoutland were specifically mentioned as areas that needed broadband service. There was also discussion of other areas of the county that have bad internet service. The Auditor stated that there is additional funding available for providing broadband to schools and libraries. He suggested that using those funds to provide broadband to the schools and libraries might help to extend broadband into the surrounding areas.

Commissioner Williams seemed very familiar with different types of internet service. He mentioned that broadband is the “gold standard” for internet service.

The Co-Mo Connect representatives estimated their construction costs at $80,000 per mile for micro-trenching and $20,000 per mile for hanging the broadband on poles. These costs go down as the size of the project increases. They also mentioned that Co-Mo Connect would provide matching money for Camden County’s investment. The Auditor added that significantly more money might be coming from legislation that is pending in the higher levels of government.

When asked, the Co-Mo Connect representatives said they would consider providing wi-fi service, but the hills and woods in Camden County can interfere with reception. As a company, Co-Mo Connect is reluctant to promise service if they’re not confident they can provide high quality broadband service.

This seemed more like an introductory meeting. There was very little specific discussion about the expense or scope of any potential broadband service projects. The Co-Mo Connect representatives were concerned that people would start bombarding them with calls about when they would get Co-Mo Connect service in their areas when there are no concrete plans to begin new expansions of their services in conjunction with Camden County. There was no mention of signing contracts or anything like that.

They shared a document with us that estimated the numbers of potential broadband users in each area. They invited us to come up and look at their maps. I’m not sure the Co-Mo Connect representatives really knew who we were and they even asked us if we had any questions.

They soon found out who we were. Once the meeting ended and everyone was chatting amongst themselves, the Auditor came over to us and asked that we keep the meeting “under wraps”. I immediately told him, “No.” I firmly explained that this was a public meeting with a quorum of the commissioners present. In spite of the fact that the meeting time and location had not been announced, this was county business and it had been discussed in a public setting. I’m pretty sure everyone there heard me because I wasn’t that quiet about it.

At this point, Stephanie and I got up and left.

And that was that.

My opinion:

Last meeting, I was slightly encouraged when I heard Presiding Commissioner Hasty say that the commissioners would review the Medical Examiner proposal individually and discuss it at the next meeting. It seemed like a step forward.

This meeting was definitely several steps backwards for transparency. I’m not an expert, but here’s the way I think this is generally supposed to work:

The Commission decides how much money they want to spend on broadband expansion.

Camden County solicits for bids to provide the expansion.

Each bidder gives a presentation to the Commission at a public meeting. Voters sit in the meeting and listen to it. The voters can then get up and speak to the Commission for or against a particular bid.

The Commissioners individually review each bid and consider the input from the community.

The Commission meets in a public meeting and discusses the bids. They then vote on which bid to accept. They could probably even vote to hear additional presentations from a select group of the bidders if they want to narrow it down.

Some of this might vary based on Missouri laws or local bidding rules, but the general idea of public discussion and individual consideration of the bids remains the same.

Everyone in Camden County deserves good broadband and I think this is the goal of the Camden County government. Except that we’re talking about millions of dollars here. This isn’t a bid for an animal control dog box. Transparency protects Camden County from potential lawsuits from bidders who weren’t given an opportunity to bid or who might have a legitimate claim that the bids were handled unfairly.

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