The Augusta County Board of Supervisors seems to want to keep county residents from knowing what’s going on behind closed doors, and in the process has inadvertently, and dramatically, boosted the number of viewers its meetings get on Facebook in the process.
With the number of people tuning in to board meetings having more than doubled since the beginning of the year, averaging just under 1,400 views for the past four meetings, it’s apparently time for the BOS to engage in what you could call information management.
Pastures Supervisor Pam Carter is leading the push to that end.
Carter, at Monday’s board staff briefing, initiated a discussion among board members on how to deal with what she termed “false information” from speakers taking their turns at the podium during the public comments section at the every-other-Wednesday-night board meetings.
“I think citizens, when they hear this, a lot of times, they believe it, because we don’t offer any kind of a, you know, a challenge to that, or response to that, to say, you know, thank you for your thoughts, even if it’s done under matters from the staff,” Carter said.
“I don’t know when to do it, but I think that we have an obligation to the citizens to provide accurate information so that they understand what’s going on in this county,” Carter said.
“You know, we can’t rely on newspaper articles. That just doesn’t cut it,” Carter said.
Wait: was Carter suggesting planting favorable newspaper articles there? Because it seems that’s what she was saying.
One would hope that whatever the county tried to do there, the editor and reporter being asked to publish whatever they were being asked to publish would at least do some fact-checking of their own.
Meaning, you know, depending on who the reach-out was being made to, there’d be no guarantee that the county would get what it wants.
Maybe that’s why Carter said the county couldn’t rely on that approach.
South River Supervisor Carolyn Bragg raised another obvious issue with how the board could put itself into a position to be able to counter supposed misinformation specific to a live-meeting setting.
“I think part of the concern is, we don’t know what the questions are going to be to have the information available,” Bragg said. “When you start hearing all these numbers and all these revenue streams and not really saying the expense part, you know that the offsetting pieces, and it’s partial information at best, that I don’t know how to answer, and I don’t know what the answer would be.”
It’s fairly obvious who this is aimed at. Tracy Pyles, a long-time former Board of Supervisors member who is now running for the Commissioner of Revenue post, has long been a stickler for getting the county to hew the line on its finances, and knows the bottom line as well as anybody.
Pyles is a frequent speaker, and loud critic, of the current political direction of the county, to the point that, you may remember, he was forcibly removed from a BOS meeting last month, by a phalanx of county sheriff’s deputies.
County Administrator Tim Fitzgerald picked up on Bragg’s concern with trying to position staff to be able to deliver rapid-fire responses to issues brought up by the likes of Pyles or other county critics at board meetings.
“As a general rule, it’s better that you take time and research, it is better for us to take the time and research it and provide an answer, versus maybe getting into something that may or may not be fully correct at the meeting,” Fitzgerald said. “So, folks who just understand that, you know, we would say, I don’t believe that’s correct, we’ll look into it, we’ll get you the facts and answers to that. I think that’s the better way of doing it.”
The consensus that emerged thereafter seemed to be to give the staff a chance at a subsequent BOS meeting to be able to address criticisms from members of the public from a past meeting.
“I’m game for anything,” Carter said. “But I just would like for us to take the initiative to get the facts out there to the public, so that they know that everything they hear, like, as I said, at the podium, may not be true.”