Washington County looking to cancel government meetings

Robert Houk • Mar 14, 2020 at 8:00 AM

Washington County Mayor Joe Grandy said Friday county commissioners will be asked to consider a “clean copy” of an inter-local school agreement with Johnson City.

But he’s uncertain when they will take it up.

That’s because county officials are thinking of canceling many government meetings in the coming weeks to limit exposure to the novel coronavirus.

“Health officials are saying that we are nearing the end of the respiratory and flu season,” Grandy told the Press. “If we can get through the next six weeks, there’s a belief the virus will not be as active in warmer weather.”

He said the idea is the county can help prevent new cases of COVID-19 by limiting public exposure. That means postponing public gatherings like the County Commission’s regular meeting on March 23.

“If we can prevent a surge — flatten out the curve over the next six to eight weeks —  we will be OK,” Grandy said. “That’s what we are thinking.”

The mayor said the government could “continue to function for a period of time” without the County Commission meeting.

“Statutorily, the commission is only required to meet four times a year,” Grandy said.

He said the state General Assembly might even consider granting county governments the power to deliberate online or via conference calls if necessary.

In the meantime, Grandy said Friday there is no particular rush for county commissioners to reconsider the inter-local agreement for school funding they approved by a 10-4-1 vote last month. The $12.5 million deal calls for the county to allocate $500,000 annually over a 25-year period to help the city of Johnson City with its school capital needs.

The City Commission deferred a vote on the inter-local agreement at its meeting on Thursday.

“Rather than risk someone challenging this later as to the legality of the process, we — being the city and the county — need to be sure that we’ve done this legally and properly so that we can do what’s in the best interest of the citizens we work for,” City Manager Pete Peterson said following a special called commission meeting.

Grandy said the City Commission’s decision to postpone a vote on the agreement is “not a big deal,” and noted the county is looking to address the city’s concerns.

“It’s an important document, and it’s important that we get it right,” he said.

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