ALFRED — When is the best time to hold a public meeting that the public will attend?

That, say York County Commissioners, is a question with no easy answer.

Commissioners currently conduct their regular meetings at 4:30 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of the month ”“ a time frame in effect for several years.

At least one county commissioner, Mike Cote, is suggesting a shift to a slightly later start time, at 5 or 5:30 p.m., reasoning that bumping up the start time a bit would give more people an opportunity to attend.

“Four-thirty works better for me, but later would give the public more time to get here,” he said.

Commissioner Gary Sinden said 4:30 p.m. works for him, but acknowledged the question of public attendance and suggested a later start time as a trial run. He said when he was a selectman in Eliot, the board there tried meeting at different times, in an attempt to get the public to turn out.

Attendance by the public at county commission meetings is sparse, Typically, there are one or two members of the public in attendance.

Commissioner Richard Dutremble said 5 p.m. would work for him.

Chairman Sallie Chandler said she had concerns about the manager and his administrative assistant, both of whom put in full work days before the meetings start.

“I understand that, but we have to get back to the reason why we’re here, we’re here for the public,” said Cote.

County Manager Greg Zinser said he’d cope with whatever meeting time is decided. But Zinser, who was formerly town manager in Damariscotta, said there doesn’t seem to be a perfect time that results in increased public attendance.

“From my experience, meeting at different times really doesn’t bring more people out,” he said, though sometimes particular issues bring the public in.

A random sampling of five of Maine’s 16 counties show county commissioners tend to meet in the afternoons. Sagadahoc County Commissioners meet at 3 p.m., according to their website, while Washington County meets at 4 p.m., Aroostook at 4:30 p.m., Androscoggin at 5 p.m., and Cumberland County meets at 5:30 p.m.

Area town and city councils and selectboards tend to meet at 7 p.m., with a couple of exceptions: Waterboro selectmen meet at 6 p.m., while Alfred selectmen host their regular meetings at 4 p.m.

Cote said he recalled during budget discussions that some folks said meetings were too early for them to attend. He agreed that if the time is shifted, it should be on a trial basis.

One of the few members of the public who attends York County Commission meetings is Bill Burns of Hollis, a member of his community”˜s budget board. Burns said the budget panel there tried different meeting times, but that didn’t bring out more members of the public. He said the meetings are now broadcast live and people can call in with questions or comment.

Zinser said as time permits, the county’s technology team is working on a system to record and rebroadcast meetings.

“We have no capability to broadcast live,” he said. Zinser pointed out that the county doesn’t have available cable television access, and some commissioners noted that not all county residents have cable.

Sinden said Eliot uses Town Hall Streams, which allows for live streaming and rebroadcast over the Internet.

Commissioners decided to hold off on a decision on shifting the meeting time until the next regular meeting, set for 4:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at the York County government building (former jail) on Route 4 in Alfred.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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