On Tuesday morning, the Henry County Commission held a meeting outside of the front lawn of the county courthouse, something likely to be a first in the county’s history. I was intrigued to hear about this, so I reached out to them with a few questions on the specifics of how they conducted their meeting and how other counties in the state of Alabama can learn from them in order to hopefully reclaim some sense of normalcy in this unprecedented time. Henry County Probate Judge and Commission Chairman David Money reached back out to me with answers to my questions.
1. With the state of Alabama currently being under a stay-at-home order, how did you all plan this meeting and what challenges did you all face in ensuring this meeting ran smoothly?
Money: I had read that some counties around the state had decided to postpone their regular meeting until ‘things were back to normal.’ But who knows when, if any semblance of normalcy will return and when it does, what will it look like? It was also important that we meet on a regular basis to ensure that several road projects we had planned would not be interrupted because we had failed to meet (we have meetings just once a month – on every second Tuesday.) I looked at the long-range forecast ten days ago and when it looked promising, I asked the commissioners if they were open to an ‘outside’ meeting. They all agreed that it would be the best thing to do. Our meetings are held inside the courthouse so we set the meeting spot within steps of where the public would have entered to attend the meeting had there been no COVID-19 restrictions.
2. What steps did you all take to ensure compliance with the CDC’s social distancing and hygiene guidelines?
Money: We placed all tables and all chairs so that all attendees would be a minimum of six feet from each other. We also had a deputy sheriff taking temperatures.
3. How urgent was it that you all meet and what kind of policy issues did you discuss at the meeting that are relevant to the current COVID-19 pandemic?
Money: We needed to (1) Pass a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ between the Henry County Commission and the Henry County E-911 Board to allow the opening of Henry County Dispatch; (2) We needed to authorize the chairman, the administrator and the engineer to open, evaluate and accept the low proposal for bids we are opening tomorrow – this would allow work to proceed on Henry County Road 55 (we did not want to call a special meeting or have to wait 30 days to get that done); (3) We wanted to authorize the Abbeville Matrons Club to place white marble benches around the courthouse (at no cost to the county) – the Club needed to get the benches ordered to secure a proposal they had been quoted; (4) We wanted to give our county engineer permission to execute an agreement with ALDOT concerning Federal Aid Exchange Funds and, (5) We needed to authorize the chairman to enter into a contract with a local company for cell excavation work at the Henry County landfill.
4. What other county commissions in the state of Alabama have taken this type of approach to their meetings?
Money: I honestly have no idea.
5. What do you hope other counties in the state can learn from this?
Money: I’m honored to serve as the current president of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama (ACCA) and during my seven-year tenure as a probate judge/commission chairman, I’ve noted and been extremely pleased to see that the great majority of counties in Alabama are very conscientious about the need to be open, transparent and accessible to their citizens. What we did today was nothing special…we just happened to be the county (or one of the counties) to decide to hold our meeting outside (under some 80-year-old pecan trees.) It was well-received.
6. Is there anything else that you would like our readers to know from your experience dealing with this pandemic on a county level?
Money: That we each have a personal responsibility to lead by example. I try every day to encourage our citizens to be patient, follow the guidelines, take care of your family and the ones who depend on you and know that in due time this too shall pass.
I was very thankful to receive these replies from Chairman Money. I did some additional research on question 4 to see if any other county commissions in Alabama did anything similar. The Director of Communication and Engagement for the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, Abby Fitzpatrick told me, “I do know that Colbert County has also held a commission meeting outside.”
I visited colbertcounty.org and less than two weeks ago, they published a public notice that said:
“AT THE DIRECTION OF THE CHAIRMAN OF THE COLBERT COUNTY COMMISSION AN EMERGENCY MEETING OF THE COLBERT COUNTY COMMISSION IS CALLED FOR 1:00 P.M. APRIL 3, 2020 TO BE CONDUCTED ON THE COLBERT COUNTY COURTHOUSE EAST LAWN”
Dakota Layton graduated from the University of Alabama in Huntsville with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. He is currently enrolled at the University of Mississippi where he is working to earn his Master of Arts in Philosophy.