Commissioners_Meeting_02

Kittitas County Board of Commissioners Laura Osiadacz, Brett Wachsmith and Cory Wright listen to a presentation during a meeting in November 2019. The board is working to implement new measures to conduct meetings during the stay-at-home order.

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Getting work done has become a bit trickier under the new realities of social distancing to prevent community spread of the novel coronavirus, but government entities are finding new ways to continue operating.

The Kittitas County Board of Commissioners has had to make adjustments to the way it conducts meetings, performs essential tasks and receives public comment during the current pandemic. The traditional gatherings in the commissioner’s auditorium, for now at least are a thing of the past. As a result, the board has had to get creative in utilizing technology to solve problems raised by the current health crisis.

Commissioner Brett Wachsmith said the board has worked out a means to telecommute for their meetings, but they have found that the major challenge is engaging the public outside of the traditional setting. He said the board is looking at utilizing social media platforms and having citizens send public comment to them electronically prior to meetings so they are still able to participate. As they come up with a solution to that challenge, Wachsmith said the board is working with the county’s information technology department, as well as consulting with the prosecutor’s office to ensure that the new strategy is in compliance with the open public meetings act.

“It just might not be your typical business as usual that we’re all accustomed to where there’s a portion of the meeting we open to public comment,” he said.

Wachsmith said the board has been working with staff members to identify what business is deemed essential and what can be postponed until community restrictions are lifted. He said some meetings usually held to hear updates from groups and organizations within the community may be put on hold until the traditional setting can be resumed.

“The county’s not shutting down,” he said. “So when decisions have to be made from a board level, that’s more of what we’re focusing on, as opposed to the nonessential meetings.”

New hiring at the county level has also been put on hold for the moment, eliminating the meetings usually held to interview prospective employees. Due to the hit the economy has taken from the pandemic, Wachsmith said it has changed how some issues like hiring may be approached at the county level.

“We need to have a better solid understanding of where we’re going to come in from our budget forecasting for revenues and looking at projects that we just kind of put off,” he said. “If money’s not coming in, we’re going to have to reevaluate later in the year the viability of certain projects.”

As the board solidifies a plan for public participation in the age of social distancing, Wachsmith said they plan on live streaming their meetings as often as possible so that community members can still sit in on those meetings, albeit in a virtual sense.

“People can log on and at least see what business is being done and what decisions we’re making so we’re more open and transparent,” he said.

Once the community is able to get back to business as usual, Wachsmith said the goal is to continue to provide more virtual accessibility to meetings for those who are not able to attend but still want to be involved.

“I think in the short term and long term, we plan on having those meetings streamed so if people can’t participate from home, they can at least see what we’re doing,” he said. “What’s being planned and talked about. We want people to know we’re accessible.”

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