DADE CITY — Several times in recent meetings, Pasco residents were adamant about wanting to address their elected county commissioners face to face to discuss everything from requiring masks to rezoning property.
Soon they will get their wish.
County administrator Dan Biles presented a plan to commissioners Tuesday to bring citizens back into the boardroom for meetings beginning on May 18. Without discussion, commissioners accepted the change in meeting participation rules, the decision coming just a day after Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order ending all emergency orders adopted by local governments related to COVID-19 across the state.
The public has not been been allowed in the commission’s meeting room to make their comments since the pandemic began. Instead, there were online opportunities, the option to email comments and a kiosk was set up outside the boardrooms in New Port Richey and Dade City to allow people to make live public comments.
The proposal by Biles won’t allow full access to the public, but it will allow up to 30 people into the boardroom when meetings are in New Port Richey, not counting staff and elected officials, and up to 18 when they are in the smaller venue for meetings at the Historical Pasco Courthouse in Dade City.
Masks will be recommended but not required in the boardroom, and when the rooms reach capacity, citizens will be directed to the kiosk outside to make comments, according to the memo by Biles. Pasco ended its mandatory mask order April 5.
“Pasco County’s public meetings throughout the pandemic were held in virtual and then hybrid virtual formats, allowing to several forms of public participation, including options that had never been available to the public before,” said Tambrey Laine, Pasco County spokeswoman. “The county is preparing to safely reopen our public meetings to in-person visitors beginning May 18.”
“Pasco County is proud to continue offering more opportunities than ever before for our community to participate in our public meetings,” Biles told the Tampa Bay Times in an email. “Not only are we safely allowing people back into our boardrooms, but you can still participate by calling in or joining us online.”