I attended the March 8, 2022 Camden County Commission meeting.
All commissioners were present.
There were three of us in the audience besides the normal Camden County employees who usually attend.
Nobody had anything to say during Public Comment.
The only item on the agenda was the Sheriff’s UVC Lights Bid.
This item had previously been demonstrated at a Commission meeting on November 9, 2021. The link to my article about that meeting is here:
To summarize this agenda item, the UVC Lights Machine emits UV light that is purported to clean the COVID virus and other pathogens when it is activated in a room. You have to turn it on, run like heck, and leave it alone in the room for a period of time while it shoots UV light all over the place.
The Sheriff wanted the Commission to approve the bid for two of the machines at a total cost of $81,704.12 . He stated it will be used in the jail, but it’s not intended just for the Sheriff’s Office. It can also clean the courtrooms and other county offices. The Sheriff mentioned a recent outbreak in the jail that cost him $51,000 and might have been avoided if they had this equipment. According to the Sheriff, other counties have used these devices and they’ve been happy with the results.
Commissioner Williams reviewed the contract and noted there was a $2,500 annual fee that covers software updates, customer support, and replacement bulbs. Commissioner Hasty said the main issue was if federal ARPA funds or County General revenue should be used to pay for them.
Commissioner Gohagan asked if this expenditure was coming out of the Sheriff’s budget? Sheriff Helms began to get angry and said this was not supposed to come out of his budget.
As they argued back and forth, Sheriff Helms retorted that it was supposed to be ARPA money. He pointed at me and angrily said they were making a big deal about the purchase and now that was going to get out on the internet!
Everyone looked over at me and I was caught a little bit off guard. I let out a strange kind of snorting/laughing noise and just kept taking notes. Of course it’s going to get out on the internet.
It’s what I do.
As the Commissioners tried to talk about the issue, Sheriff Helms became more irritated. At one point, he mentioned that he might just withdraw the purchase request.
The Auditor stated he was waiting to hear back from BKD, the consulting firm the county already paid around $200,000 to advise and assist on ARPA issues. Unfortunately, it seems the county’s BKD point of contact person might be out sick with COVID and she’s not answering his phone calls.
Commissioner Williams scored the zinger of the meeting when he dryly commented that maybe she wouldn’t be out sick if BKD had one of these UV light machines.
After some tense discussion, the Commission decided they would use ARPA funds to pay for it, but if it turned out they couldn’t, they would pull the money from general revenue. This was approved unanimously.
Commissioner Gohagan mentioned to the Sheriff that he was the one who had made a list of all of the previously tabled items and submitted it to the other commissioners so they could be put back on the Commission agenda. This item was placed back on the Commission agenda at his request.
This was followed by comments from the other commissioners that they didn’t even know there was going to be a Commission meeting this day. These statements surprised me again(no snort this time, though), because the notifications for this meeting had been sent out by email and there were three of us in the audience who obviously knew this meeting had been scheduled. The Commission should probably review how they are notifying elected officials of upcoming meetings.
And that was that.
It was a pretty fun meeting and the back and forth definitely got my attention. I normally don’t play a significant role in the meetings so I appreciated them making me a part of the action. I didn’t take it personally and I generally get along pretty well with Sheriff Helms.
In his defense, when I went back to look at the earlier meeting, the Sheriff had asked to use ARPA money to pay for these UV machines. It’s obviously a COVID-related expense and that is one of the original four categories that ARPA money was authorized to be spent on. The Commissioners also mentioned during this meeting that they had received a recent opinion that if you received less than $10,000,000 in ARPA funds (Camden County is getting $8,900,000), the county can spend it on whatever they want. So I’m not sure why there was so much hesitation about it.
It might also help if the Commission adopted a more consistent schedule and agenda for their meetings. Always having Public Comment at the beginning is a bit strange because nothing has been discussed yet so people have no idea how the commissioners are going to vote on items. I’ve seen several occasions where members of the public come up to speak about their concerns and are then reassured by the commissioners that they don’t have to worry because they don’t intend to vote that way on the agenda item. And then once we hear the commissioners’ discussion and the Commission votes, the public can’t say anything at the meeting because Public Comment is already over.
I would suggest the following format:
On every Tuesday, the Commission would have a first reading and discussion of all new business. This would be followed by Public Comment where the public could respond to these Commission discussions and the new agenda items. It’s easier for the public to respond and provide input after they hear what the commissioners have to say about the agenda.
On every Thursday, the Commission would then have Public Comment at the beginning of the meeting regarding the agenda items introduced on Tuesday. The public could comment on the agenda items and then following the Public Comment, the commissioners would discuss and then vote on each agenda item
This would give the public and the commissioners at least a day to do research, contemplate the agenda items, and hear from their constituents. It would also give the public a day to hear about the new agenda items and decide if they needed to attend the Thursday meeting.
Just a thought.