Feb. 22—Westmoreland County commissioners still have no firm plans to provide remote access to public meetings, but the manner in which residents can comment at the monthly sessions has been streamlined.
Officials created a form on the county website in which citizens can register and submit comments to be read at the start of public meetings as coronavirus restrictions at the courthouse continue to limit attendance.
"We are hoping this makes life little easier for the public," said Vera Spina, the county's chief clerk.
The revised commenting system replaces the process that was hastily enacted last year as commissioners continued to conduct public meetings under guidelines established as part of the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic that limited the size of gatherings.
Commissioners currently limit in-person attendance to about a dozen audience members. Members of the public have sporadically come to the courthouse to make public comments at meetings but, in most cases, statements were submitted by email and read to commissioners by Spina.
The new system replaces the need for residents to directly email her their public comments, although they can still be presented in person as was done before the pandemic.
"This is a way to make sure I'm not missing them," Spina said.
Commissioners next meet for a special voting session on Feb. 25, when the new commenting system will be used for the first time.
Meanwhile, a year into the pandemic, there are still no concrete plans to allow residents to remotely watch and participate in public meetings.
"We're still talking and having discussions about it, but we're waiting for the public meeting room to be outfitted with new technology," said Commissioner Sean Kertes.
Commissioners last year purchased computers and other electronic equipment to allow county employees to work remotely and to upgrade technology throughout the courthouse, including the ability to stream and broadcast public meetings. Much of that equipment, including what is needed to facilitate the remote access to meetings, is on back order.
For now, audio recordings of the public meetings are posted to the county's website.
"We are planning for virtual meetings. Covid-19 will be out there for a while. We expect to get this computer equipment in the fall," Kertes said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Rich at 724-830-6293, email@example.com or via Twitter .