Bedford County government meetings go online
April 11, 2020 By DAWN HANKINS - reporter for Times-Gazette in Shelbyville, TN
Bedford County’s government, out of concern for public safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic, is currently making monthly business sessions available through special media conferencing sources. The county commission will hold its regular monthly meeting 7 p.m. Tuesday in what officials call a hybrid in-person electronic format. Bedford County Board of Education will meet 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 21, with the assistance of free Zoom software conferencing. About half of the 18 commissioners are expected to attend in person and will be strongly advised to adhere to social distancing, with the remainder telephoning in via GoToMeeting software. Josh Carney, the county’s IT director, and Randy Saddler of Shelbyville Record Shop were in the courtroom Thursday testing the system, and there will be a more formal run-through on Monday morning to ensure that commissioners will be able to dial in, speak and listen. Mayor Chad Graham will allow a very limited number of visitors to attend this month’s meeting at the courthouse. Gov. Bill Lee’s order for social distancing applies to all government meetings. Commission agenda The commission business is expected to be very limited, according to a statement which accompanied the agenda this week. The commission’s four standing committees cancelled meetings last month, just when the COVID-19 pandemic was breaking so no items have been placed on the agenda by those respective committees. Commission agenda items about refugee sanctuary and the support for the Second Amendment, originally scheduled to come up Tuesday, have been deferred at the request of commissioners Anita Epperson and Bill Anderson — both who originally placed those them on the commission agenda. Items which are planned to be considered by the commission include approval of notary public licenses and appointments to Bedford County Board of Equalization, Bedford County Planning Commission and Bedford County Beer Board. County Commissioner Brent Smith has pushed to declare the county a no-go zone for refugee [those non-residents fleeing their homelands] resettlement. Smith appeared last month before Bedford County Board of Commissioners’ rules and legislative committee and even brought in an expert from Washington, D.C., for discussion. When three of the commission’s standing committees meet on April 21, they will not be consecutive in order to give the chance for the members of one committee to leave before another arrives — all in the name of social distancing during the pandemic. There will be designated start times for each committee, county officials stated Thursday. School board Zooms At the BCBE meeting on the 21st at 5:30 p.m. school officials will be using the skills of technology supervisor Ben Barrett and technology team to provide residents with safer meeting accessibility with Zoom, an online conferencing service. This is one of the newer forms of online conferencing used now by educators across the state. While residents may attend at the central office, be aware that the school board meeting room will not allow for many visitors, due to social distancing laws still in effect. The school system sent school board members emails with directions for accessing Zoom conferencing earlier this week. A full BCBE agenda will be available in a few days, Barrett said in the email. Bedford County School System has been closed since early March, due to the coronavirus pandemic. Schools are scheduled to reopen April 24. Superintendent Don Embry is expected to discuss school plans for the remainder of the academic year. This year’s calendar earmarks May 22 as the last school day when students pick up their report cards. State schools continue to go about as much school-related business as possible through internet resources like Public Broadcasting Service (PBS.) Bedford County released its last quarter’s honor roll status from local schools this week. Those student names are scheduled to be printed in the April 18 Times-Gazette Life & Leisure section. With proms passing in the night, since COVID-19, discussions are expected to move to high school graduation plans. A report is expected from the school nutrition department on the successful school feed program. Hundreds of students have benefitted through access to six local school sites, where they could pick up free breakfast and lunch while school is closed. While buses delivered the food the first couple weeks, the pandemic has caused that resource to be cancelled. Students can still drive by to pick up their meals at their respective school sites. Leader speaks All the work being done for school children in the state is not going unnoticed by Tennessee Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn. She expressed her thanks at Gov. Bill Lee’s press conference Friday afternoon to all who’ve helped school children succeed during . She thanked all school personnel from bus drivers to classroom teachers for staying onboard during the pandemic. She expressed that’s a great task, anyway, given Tennessee currently oversees 1,800 schools and 147 districts. Now, hundreds of thousands of satellite schools exist. “The way you have stepped up for our school communities continues to be awe-inspiring, impressive, innovative and important,” the commissioner said.