LETTER TO THE EDITOR
Last week, TLR published a letter to the editor from reader Betsy Crittenden that criticized Chapel Hill Town Council members for what Ms. Crittenden viewed as their inattentiveness to public comment during a concept plan review at the Feb. 9 town council meeting. Upon learning that her statement “Mayor Pam Hemminger and council members Jess Anderson, Tai Huynh, Paris Miller-Foushee, Michael Parker and Amy Ryan left the video screen until the public had finished speaking” was inaccurate, Ms. Crittenden asked to retract her letter and stated, “My intent was to draw attention to the fact that it appeared [during the Feb. 9 meeting] some council members were not present when citizens were speaking, which is not respectful of citizen input to the process and causes council members to miss important perspectives.”
Mayor Pam Hemminger has provided the following response:
To the Chapel Hill Community:
Over the past two years, the Town Council and our staff have worked hard to adapt our meetings and our own individual situations to Zoom. I appreciate and understand that the public wants to know the Council members are watching and listening. At the same time, it is important for all of us to recognize that there are times when virtual meeting etiquette requires one of us to turn off the camera.
For instance, it does become necessary during a 3-4-hourlong meeting to take breaks for health reasons. Speaking for myself, I turn my camera off when coughing, stretching, or eating something to avoid distracting from speakers or presentations. During those times, my audio stays on and I am listening. I always keep my camera on for public speaking as I try to greet each speaker (when possible).
Additionally, as others may have experienced, attendees may not see all the panelists in a Zoom webinar and the positions of panelists on the screen change. This is something I, myself, struggle to deal with during meetings because it makes it difficult for me to see which council members have raised their hand to speak.
Finally, although it is unusual, there are times when a council member might ask to be excused early from a meeting for a particular reason. As it turns out, that was the case on February 9th.
Public input is important to the entire town council and to me. Overall, I believe we have done a good job adapting to this different way of doing our work. Furthermore, I have been proud of the patience, professionalism and grace everyone has shown to one another as we have learned and transitioned together.
Your Council works hard and they are dedicated to their work. We have had Council members call in to meetings from remote locations while traveling, participate when they’re ill, and juggle family responsibilities during school closings with their duties as Council members. They read constituent emails, arrange phone calls or meetings to talk about people’s interests and concerns, and visit proposed development sites before arriving at their decision.
In doing our work, all of us strive to build relationships and strengthen communication with everyone in our community. In the future, I would encourage you to reach out to ask about something you see (or don’t see) at a meeting or to share thoughts about how we might do something better. My door is always open!
Policy regarding letters and columns critical of public figures.
When TLR receives a letter to the editor or guest column critical of a public figure, TLR will attempt to verify the factual accuracy of the statements it contains, notify the public figure(s) that TLR will be publishing a letter/column critical of them, inform them of the nature of the criticism and invite the public figure(s) to submit a response to be published together with the letter/column. Questions or comments regarding this policy can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.