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Phoning it in

Board debates electronic attendance at meetings

DUMMERSTON—In an age where the long-promised “picture phones” are finally here via computer programs such as Skype, what does that mean for attendance at public meetings?

The Selectboard debated this question at their March 30 regular meeting when they discussed adopting their rules of procedure.

Board member Joe Cook brought up the item after noticing the Development Review Board had their rules of procedure posted on the town’s website.

“I thought, ‘well, the Selectboard should have some rules,’” Cook said.

Even though Cook characterized the Board as “collegial,” should that change and “something contentious arise,” it would be good to establish guidelines for how the Board operates.

The Selectboard looked at model rules of procedure supplied by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), and suggested a few alterations.

The one item that inspired the most discussion was whether Board members could electronically attend a Selectboard meeting.

Board member Steve Glabach expressed hesitation at allowing this.

“My concern is, once we start allowing electronically attending meetings, we can all stay home and have our meeting” remotely, Glabach said.

Although Glabach admitted he had been telephoned in the past to cast a vote, he didn’t want that to be the norm. “If you’re here, you’re here, and if you can’t make it, you can’t make it, and it should be that simple,” he said.

Board member Jerelyn Wilson said she didn’t think the entire Board would stay home and phone in the meeting.

“That’s not the normal protocol,” she said, noting, “for the way we function, we want to encourage people to come in-person."

During the discussion, Board members offered examples of when a Skype session or a conference call might make sense: during unusual circumstances.

“What if we’ve got some burning, extraordinary issue...and you have to go up to get some sugaring equipment? You could call in,” Board Chair Zeke Goodband said to Glabach.

In an emergency, “we want to have the possibility of somebody joining by phone,” Wilson said, adding, “we don’t want to say, ‘that’s not an option.’"

“It should be your privilege and your right” as an elected member of the Selectboard to phone in to a meeting if you have to be out of town, said Board member Hugh Worden, noting he travels somewhat often.

Even with the option, Cook said he didn’t think Board members would start “Skype-ing in just because they can."

Goodband reminded his colleagues that the rules of procedure expire every year, and are decided upon by the new Board just after Town Meeting.

“If it’s a nightmare and it doesn’t work out well, we can change it,” he said.

Although Glabach told his fellow Board members they “probably wouldn’t change my mind,” he invited them to vote on the issue and move forward with their decision.

The Selectboard voted to allow “Board members to participate in meetings by electronic means,” with Glabach offering the sole “nay” vote.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #353 (Wednesday, April 20, 2016). This story appeared on page C1.

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