On Wednesday, the public will be able to see all of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors members live and in person for the first time in more than two years.
The board will hold a budget work session and its first regular meeting starting at noon in Lane Auditorium at the McIntire Road County Office Building. The meeting will be hybrid with all the board members attending in-person with members of the public while others may still watch and speak virtually during public comment periods.
Albemarle is one of the last localities in the region to return to in-person meetings since the COVID-19 pandemic moved local government public gatherings online in 2020. As more in the community have been vaccinated and local hospitals are seeing fewer COVID-19 patients, the county decided to bring back Board of Supervisors, Planning Commission and School Board meetings to the COB.
“I am so excited to come back because I get my energy from being around people, and Hollywood Squares is not a good way to get your energy,” Board Chair Donna Price said.
But things will look a little different inside Lane Auditorium.
Community members will now be required to enter the auditorium through the center door in the back of the auditorium. Typically, that door was closed and community members would come in the two side entrances. That door will be staffed by an “ambassador,” who works for RMC Events.
“The ambassador will let people know what the day’s mask rule is, and then also explain the seating situation,” Albemarle’s Spokesperson Emily Kilroy said during a tour of Lane.
Masks are currently optional in the County Office Building. Kilroy said Albemarle doesn’t have “a set formula,” but is looking toward the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s business best practices, CDC community levels, the Virginia Department of Labor and Industry and new case and vaccination data, among other metrics, and evaluating decisions about the building’s posture weekly.
The CDC community levels are determined by looking at new COVID-related hospital admissions over the previous week, the percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients and new cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period.
As of last week, Albemarle is at the CDC’s medium level and Charlottesville, where the McIntire Road County Office building is located, is at the low level. For counties in the medium level, the CDC recommends talking to a doctor about mask use if a person is at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
But the data the CDC is using for this area is misleading, as the Blue Ridge Health District is cleaning the area’s old COVID-19 case data to assign cases to the correct locality, resulting in negative cases in Charlottesville and high counts in Albemarle.
When it comes to seating, half of the first floor of the Lane will be open seating, while half will be physically distanced seating. Under that seating arrangement, approximately 200 people can fit on the first floor of Lane, and an additional 100 seats are on the balcony if needed.
At least two new faces will be at the dais — Supervisor Jim Andrews, who started in January, and Cynthia Hudson, an attorney with Richmond-based law firm Sands Anderson, who is on a 90-day contract as an interim county attorney. Former County Attorney Greg Kamptner retired April 1.
Neil Williamson, the president of the Free Enterprise Forum, is a regular at Board of Supervisors meetings. He said he’s happy to be going back, but is also equally happy that the county seems to be trying to find a way to have the elected and appointed officials meet in person and retain the public engagement achieved during the Zoom era.
“Local government is best done in person,” he said. “You miss so much between the recess period, as well as just the eye roll that you don’t see because you’re not focused on the right Hollywood Square,” he said. “I think the idea of Zoom, while incredibly efficient, may not be the best thing for government, but the increased participation has been very strong.”
Kilroy said community members who choose to watch and speak over Zoom will just have their names show up on camera, not their faces.
“Right now, the plan is that if you’re presenting [in person] what we’ll see on Zoom is just the slides,” she said.
At noon on Wednesday, the board will have a budget work session on workforce stabilization. The regular meeting will start around 1 p.m., where the board is scheduled to get updates and information on specific transportation related projects. There are five public hearings scheduled after 6 p.m.
In June, county staff will present to the board their recommendation for moving the next group of county governing boards — including the Broadband Authority and the Architectural Review Board — to hybrid meetings and an update on when the final group of boards and commissions will again be meeting in-person.
More information about meetings is available on the county’s website at albemarle.org.