Using the “Zoom” platform to stream its March 30 meeting online, Knox County Commission joined the rapidly growing practice of “distanced” meetings. It was a necessary if sometimes awkward initiation into changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commission followers need to get accustomed to this new method of conducting public meetings; the coronavirus spread shows no sign of slowing down. The March meeting will certainly not be the last conducted remotely.
Although these are serious times, the zoomed gathering still provided viewers with a few light – if unintended – moments.
Commissioner Charles “Houdini” Busler performed a magic act of sorts when he disappeared from the screen for several minutes without so much as a puff of smoke. John Schoonmaker called the disappearing commissioner’s attention to the fact that he was missing in action, and after Hugh Nystrom enlisted the aid of an off-screen technician Busler’s video feed was restored.
Commissioner Evelyn Gill’s audio bailed on her a couple of times, as it did with some others. With lips moving but no words forthcoming, viewers could invent their own dialogue of what might have been said or should have been said.
From time to time, a disembodied voice crept into the audio. Heard but unseen, Bud Armstrong made a procedural suggestion to the chair, and Tom Spangler’s voice dropped in at least once.
Don’t judge the missteps of the first-ever zoomed commission gathering too harshly. After all, the Wright brothers needed several attempts to get off the ground at Kitty Hawk. I’m happy our local legislators didn’t have to deal with sand dunes and devilish winds.
Chair Hugh Nystrom, as always, kept the show going with patience and courtesy. We’ll miss Hugh.
Technical glitches aside, there was serious business at hand. Knox County Mayor Glenn Jacobs (not on camera, but in his unmistakable gravelly baritone) announced a need for volunteers at Volunteer East Tennessee (click HERE to learn more).
Jacobs went on to note the growing economic problems stemming from the health emergency: “This crisis is going to have a big impact on our current and forecasted budget.” The mayor added that the county is working with the state to make revenue forecasts as accurate as possible.
Returning from the ether into which he had vanished earlier, Busler hauled out a familiar whipping boy: the school administration’s pending move to the TVA East Tower. Commissioner Gill allowed that she wanted to “express support” for Busler’s intention to remove two resolutions concerning the topic from the consent agenda.
Neither would have required immediate action or expenditure of funds, but their presence allowed Busler an opening. The move is “not a necessity” right now, the commissioner said, arguing that the economy “hasn’t reached the bottom” of the coronavirus financial havoc.
Commissioner Randy Smith noted that spending the money now will save a “lot of money in the future.” Smith’s point has been well-documented.
Change isn’t easy, especially when it involves unfamiliar technology. Overall, the commission’s first venture into a brave new world gets a passing grade.
Larry Van Guilder is the business/government editor for Knox TN Today.