FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — With a backlog of zoning cases and land-use ordinances piling up, Forsyth County laid plans May 12 to resume hearings that will allow for public comment.
At its regular, bi-monthly work session, the County Commission took steps that will initially grant full access to meetings online, beginning with the May 19 Planning Commission session. The agenda for that meeting has close to a dozen items requiring a public hearing in which citizens would be granted opportunity for comment.
Over the past 60 days, Forsyth County has shut down its Planning Commission, its Zoning Board of Appeals, its Civil Service, its Animal Review Board and a host of other boards that draw on public input to render a decision.
Even the subject matters before the County Commission have been limited to items not requiring public comment. That is in contrast to regular commission meetings before the pandemic when the public was provided two opportunities outside of public hearings to speak on just about any topic they chose.
County officials say that upgraded Zoom technology, provided through a contract with AT&T, will now allow for citizens to address the various boards during public hearings.
County Commissioners will get a chance to test the new system at their May 21 meeting that is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m.
Even so, officials will still have to wrestle with the rollout of public hearings.
The commission adopted a plan May 12 through which all public hearings, beginning with the May 19 Planning Commission meeting, will be conducted online. During those sessions, the public will be provided access, either by phone or teleconference, to weigh in on items.
However, plans also call for reopening the county administrative building — or some other facility — for in-person public hearings on June 3. Accommodations would be made to provide enough space for visitors to avoid crowding.
Details of that plan, though, are complicated by the fact that some residents may not wish to attend meetings of public gatherings. So, commissioners are attempting to devise a system to accommodate those who wish to contribute to the discussion by phone or computer.
“There may be people — it doesn’t matter what we do, masks, social distancing — they’re not coming,” said County Attorney Ken Jarrard. “I think these times would lend itself to there being alternative ways for those people to engage.”
The resolution Jarrard will draft continues provisions of an earlier county-wide emergency order that allows certain concessions to businesses operating during the pandemic, such as allowing restaurants with licenses for on-premises consumption of alcohol to offer to-go beer and wine. It also provides allowances for waiving penalties for late payments of certain taxes, performing the bidding process electronically and acceptance of plans electronically through the Planning Department.
The resolution would remain in effect as long as the governor’s statewide emergency remains in force, currently through June 12.
Commission Chairwoman Laura Semanson pointed out that if individual elements addressed within the resolution need to be extended or shortened, the commission can deal with those items separately in the coming days and weeks.
The resolution does not address openings of all government facilities, such as parks. Those operations are on a separate phased schedule for reopening, according to Parks Director Jim Pryor.
Currently, Pryor said, plans are to open the rec centers and the skate park. Summer camps and community buildings are on tap for openin