August 21 2019

New Policy Allows Town Board and Committee Members to Attend Meetings Remotely

By: Rich Hosford

The Board of Selectmen recently voted to approve a policy that allows members of boards and committees to participate in meetings remotely through electronic devices in certain circumstances. 


According to the written policy, the purpose is to enable members of local public bodies to remotely participate, in limited circumstances, in open meetings. This will allow members to participate in the discussion and to vote without being deemed absent. 


There are some conditions that must be met for a board or committee member to participate in a meeting remotely. The first is that the person participating remotely and everyone at the meeting in person must all be audible to each other. The second is that a quorum of the board must be in physical attendance and that the chair or vice chair must be at the meeting in person to reside over the proceedings. 


There are also a list of accepted reasons a board or committee member can participate remotely. These include personal illness, personal disability, an emergency, military service or due to geographical distance. 


Remote participation can be done with a telephone with internet or satellite enabled audio or video conferencing or any other technology that enables the remote participation. If the technology has video the person must be visible to all people at the meeting. 


Remote participation for any meeting is at the discretion of the chair who can approve or disapprove. 


Selectman Nick Priest, a former member of the Information Systems Advisory Committee (ISAC), was the one to propose the policy. He said this was something that ISAC had discussed in the past and that since modern technology makes it possible he thought it should be an option for when it is necessary. He added he looked at it as a measure of last resort and shouldn’t be used without proper cause. 


“I encourage all boards and committees to meet in person but this might be good to have,” he said. 


Selectman Mike Runyan said he had concerns about allowing remote meeting participation both because residents may not like it and because some members might abuse the privilege. 


“I guess I’m kind of a dinosaur,” I get it. “I get it, people working and moving at the speed of sound. But I’ll tell you what, if I was someone who followed politics on BCAT I would not appreciate hearing someone from a box on a table. I see potential issues of allowing this. For one, people might find it easier to attend a meeting from the comfort of their sofas.” 


Town Clerk Amy Warfield, who oversees that all boards and committees observe proper adherence to Open Meeting Laws, said the provisions in the policy don’t allow someone to attend a meeting remotely just because they want to. 


Board Chair Joe Morandi suggested people could just say they are sick and use that as an excuse. 


Warfield said that if someone regularly missed attending meetings in person they would likely feel pressure from the other members. 


“Usually peer pressure from other members gets people not to do that,” she said. “I look at this for situations that are an emergency. In this day and age more people are used to working remotely but if they are involved in town politics they realize it’s not something they would do all the time.”


In the end the board voted 4-1 to approve the policy. Selectman Runyan voted against.


Web Design by Polar Design