Monday, November 21, 2011

Can you hear me now?

Trustee Carol Gray peeks in to a Library Trustees meeting last summer from Egypt courtesy of skype on Mary Streeter's mac laptop.

Amherst Select Board Open Meeting Law specialist Alisa Brewer reported this evening--right before they retreated into Executive Session--that Attorney General Martha Coakley has decided in favor of "remote participation" for boards and committees in Massachusetts, meaning you no longer have to be physically present to deliberate or vote on matters before your committee (although you do not count towards a quorum).

Excuses--I mean, permitted reasons--that allow for such a thing include "personal illness, personal disability, emergency, military service, or geographic distance." Of course it's the last one that will be used most often--especially in a town like Amherst where so many people are affiliated with UMass where the workplace is in full session only 7 months out of the year.

The Select Board, acting as chief executive officers have to vote in favor of adopting the regulation overall, before any of the 50 some odd boards, committees, sub committees and task forces can put it to use. Since the SB also appoints a fair amount of the citizenry to all these volunteer positions they may find remote participation to be an effective tool for recruitment.

Besides, anything that gets people to participate in government is a good thing. Even better when government itself starts to embrace the 21st century.

Attorney General's press release on remote participation


Anonymous said...

So, after you squawked about this endlessly, it's legal. Figures.

LarryK4 said...

Actually you have selective memory. I never suggested it should not be legal, as I use skype all the time.

Anonymous said...

I'm hoping that the Select Board will take a good long time discussing and pondering this one.

I understand that the statement "anything that gets people to participate in government is a good thing" sounds like a self-evident truth. But let's think about it for a moment. We already have people driving while their minds (and their hands) are engaged somewhere else on cellphones.

There is something to be said for those being governed knowing with confidence that those doing the governing have their fannies squarely fastened in the proper seated position. Do we really want to have to worry about those out of the room multi-tasking doing who knows what while presumed to be serving on a board or committee?

I don't think that every proposed change poses a slippery slope and, yes, we've become beggars for the kind of citizenship our mothers and fathers engaged in without giving it a second thought. But this one looks like the top of a big toboggan run to me: do we apply it to jury duty? How would this work for Town Meeting? Some states are already doing voting by mail, which poses its own set of dangers. We made Town Meeting service easier by requiring only one signature on nomination papers; how's that working for us?

I find the lack of concern odd coming from one of the most passionate sticklers in town about the Open Meeting Law. This isn't just form; this is function. I would submit that the quality of what we get from government will not be enhanced by this so-called improvement.

But, at the very least: let's think this one through, please?

Rich Morse

LarryK4 said...

I don't see it as an "improvement," more like a temporary measure that is better than nothing.

Kind of like those newfangled spare tires that come with new cars. Not something you want to drive around on all of the time, but invaluable in limited use.

And yeah, I'm a stickler for Open Meeting. The Regional School Committee just now went into Executive Session without giving any hint of a reason as to why they were doing it. A clear violation of the new regulations.