Selectmen Approve Remote Participation for Meetings

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Selectmen voted unanimously at the November 13th meeting, to approve the town’s remote participation meeting bylaw which will allow board and committee members to phone-in to meetings that they cannot attend in person.

While the vote was unanimous, Chairman Ben Palleiko said he was voting for it, but while “grinding his teeth” and wondered whether it was solving a problem that didn’t exist.

“I want to like this, “said Palleiko, “I just don’t – I don’t know what the benefit is.”

Remote meeting participation became possible due to an amendment of the Open Meeting Law by the Office of the Attorney General last year, subject to approval by the Board of Selectmen. Earlier this year, at multiple meetings, the board considered remote participation, but tabled the discussion. At issue were concerns about transparency and the fairness of the proceedings and the ability of the remote participant to have access to the same materials that were before the board.

While remote participation does not count towards a quorum, the intent is to promote greater participation in government meetings by allowing members to phone in when certain specific circumstances prevent them from being physically present.

Permissible reasons for remote participation include personal illness, personal disability, emergency, military service of significant geographic distance. While to be used in these circumstances, most of the board members felt that remote participation should not become the norm.

Speaking in favor of remote participation, Appropriations Committee member Ron Eldridge said, “My stake in this is participation…..I honestly believe that participation is the key element here…..I don’t see a downside to this.”

Town Manager Norman Khumalo also supported the benefit of participation, saying participation is always good. He also said that other boards, when asked, were in favor and to his mind that meant that there was demand for remote participation.

While approved with a 4-0 vote, the Remote Participation Bylaw is subject to a trial period through the end of fiscal year 2013. At the beginning of FY14, the board will review its use by boards and committees to determine if it is successful and will decide whether or not to permit remote participation on a regular basis.