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An hour, multiple amendments, the same result: Greenville County Council to stay remote

County Square entrance

A sign marks the entrance to County Square in Greenville, South Carolina, on June 23, 2020. Greenville County Council members have not met in council chambers there since March.

After rejecting four amendments to open various parts of council business to in-person options, approving a fifth amendment, then having it reconsidered and rejected, Greenville County Council on Tuesday ended up voting to continue meeting remotely at least through Nov. 13.

The council extended its emergency ordinance requiring meetings be held online from remote locations for another 61 days after an hour of discussion, some heated words and a split vote.

The plan that sparked the most discussion would have allowed Chairman Butch Kirven, or the chairs of various committees, to decide if the council or their committee would meet in person or remotely. It would have allowed for council members not comfortable meeting in person to continue to use Zoom to meet and record votes.

That proposal was initially approved 7-5, but after learning the change allowed committee chairs to decide how their committees would meet, Councilman Joe Dill asked to reconsider the amendment and it was rejected.

Councilman Dan Tripp championed that plan in what he said was a compromise between those who wanted to meet in person and those who wanted to continue to meet virtually. He didn’t think it was a good message to send to the county that its council was restricting itself to meeting remotely.

“I don’t know what all the hoopla’s about,” Tripp said. “I’m not trying to pick a fight with anybody. I’m just trying to get us back into a permissive position rather than a restrictive one.”

Dill said “we still don’t have a clue” how the coronavirus is spread, saying there is still concern about how far people must be distanced to keep from spreading the virus.

“The sooner we can get back together again, I’m all for it. But I don’t want to kill no people out here in this community just so we can make somebody happy who wants to file a lawsuit,” he said in reference to an unsuccessful open meetings lawsuit filed by a Greenville woman challenging the Council’s policy of not allowing open public comment at its business meetings or providing an in-person place for residents to speak to the council.

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Councilman Willis Meadows said he’d hoped this would be the time council would end the emergency ordinance but in the last week the “trend is going upward again.”

He encouraged Kirven to call for an virtual town hall every month for residents to address the council and said the online meetings so far averaged more than 100 viewers per meeting, not much different than many in-person meetings. Kirven said he wouldn’t call for an in-person meeting even if given the option.

“We all know people who’ve had it," Kirven said. "We know some who have died.”

The council didn’t address any potential mask requirements, either for meetings or in public, though Councilman Ennis Fant said he knows some on the council “don’t believe in masks.”

“I refuse to come with folks who think it’s a hoax and it’s not real, and coming in there and spewing on me,” he said. “I will be at the house.”

Councilmembers Mike Barnes, Sid Cates, Dill, Fant, Kirven, Meadows, Norris and Bob Taylor voted to continue holding meetings remotely. Councilmembers Lynn Ballard, Rick Roberts, Liz Seman and Tripp voted against extending the emergency ordinance.

Four amendments introduced by Ballard to reopen various aspects of council business also failed on the same 8-4 margin.

Follow Nathaniel Cary on Twitter at @nathanielcary

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