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Phoning it in: Board discusses attending meetings remotely

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | The Town Board at its Tuesday work session. From left, Councilman Paul Shepherd, Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Councilman Peter Reich and Councilman Ed Brown. Not shown in photo, Councilwoman Chris Lewis.

AMBROSE CLANCY PHOTO | The Town Board at its Tuesday work session. From left, Councilman Paul Shepherd, Supervisor Jim Dougherty, Councilman Peter Reich and Councilman Ed Brown. Not shown in photo, Councilwoman Chris Lewis.

If you’re using SKYPE to attend a town committee meeting, are you really there? And how much are you getting out of the meeting if you have to rely on technology?

The Town Board Tuesday at its work session discussed the problems of people attending meetings remotely via telecommunication technology. Councilman Peter Reich kicked off the discussion, relating how after a recent Water Management Advisory Council meeting was cancelled due to a lack of quorum, three of the seven members wanted to use SKYPE to attend.

“I personally think [remote attendance] should be used as an exception,” Mr. Reich said, but other members weighed in that for many people it was becoming the rule. Mr. Reich noted that there are multiple problems with communication systems now used by the town, including members not being able to view important documents or having audio problems.

To rectify the situation, the town’s IT infrastructure should be upgraded, Mr. Reich said, making plain he wasn’t advocating anything, but just explaining the situation.

Councilwoman Chris Lewis said remote attendance is a situation of “an inch and a mile. Pretty soon all boards will want to SKYPE in and no one will show up.”

Supervisor Jim Dougherty said he’d had discussions with several committee members about the situation. “It’s become a winter phenomenon,” Mr. Dougherty said. “Maybe we should think carefully before we encourage that.”

Police Chief Jim Read said that with the Deer & Tick Committee, there are always two or three members attending remotely. ”Some members have made in several years [only] a few meetings,” the chief said.

It should be taken into consideration that most of the people who volunteer for town committees are over 55 and many go south for the winter, Councilman Ed Brown said. He did, however, note that at times “it’s too much if two or three people are SKYPE-ing in.”

Cautioning that the board might be “getting ahead of ourselves,” Mr. Dougherty did say there are “rules for maximum absenteeism and we could have rules for maximum SKYPE-ing. But we’re not deciding that today.”

In other business:
The board decided to hold a vote on the draft irrigation law on February 13.

Mr. Dougherty gave the Town Clerk’s financial report for January, with total town receipts at just under $100,000, compared to $62,00 for January 2014. A big boost was seen in landfill receipts of $21,000 this year as opposed to $6,000 last January.

Garbage bag sales were down this year at $2,000 compared to $12,000 last January.

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