The August 25th meeting of the Comprehensive Rezoning Task Force brought into sharp focus what mockery of Maryland’s Open Meeting Act requirement looks like in Kent County. The meeting was once again marred by technical difficulties delaying the start of the meeting by 20 minutes. The audio was never resolved for those watching via live feed. The view espoused that the County is doing the best they can to provide public access is feeble.
Current technology is available to enhance the public’s ability to remotely participate; being reduced, as was the case in the last meeting, to passing around one of the staff’s iPhones among the speakers is not acceptable. Upgrades to the sound system in the room, enhanced closed circuit access to a broadcast of the proceedings by the public and a secure web platform that actually delivers high quality audio and video has not been prioritize despite ongoing complaints.
Many Kent County Government meetings have been plagued for the past 18 months, during the pandemic, by issues and complaints. The poor audio/visual system we are stuck with is not being adequately supported to ensure basic functionality even as Kent County has spent millions of tax dollars on high quality internet fiber to government buildings to improve communications.
In a July 6th Commissioner’s meeting Commissioners Mason and Jacob were laser focused on drilling Mr. Mackey, Director of Planning and Zoning, on the Comprehensive Rezoning timeline so as to ensure the process be completed before they stand for reelection in 2022. However, they made no inquiries about the functioning or quality of the meetings.
Additionally, there is correspondence being submitted by the public, but not being entered into the record by being read, or posted on the web portal for the Task Force. Since comments offered verbally by the public are part of the record this practice of making the written comments inaccessible, effectively mutes the views expressed. Additionally, some members of the Task Force either by specifically naming a member of the public in an effort to discredit their expressed views, or by questioning the legitimacy of submitted comments are contributing further to the nullification of free and open expression as evidenced in the July 14th and August 25th meetings.
The Kent County Planning Department Staff is working hard with the hand they have been dealt by the Kent County Commissioners and lack of IT support. Likewise, the members of the Task Force, who are volunteering their time, are trying to understand this complicated process and participate to the best of their ability. However, the legitimacy of the process is tarnished by ongoing audio and visual access and disclosure issues.