For several weeks the Town Board has discussed the issue of members of town committees attending meetings remotely, either by a conference telephone call or videoconferencing using technology such as SKPE.
During the winter months, many committee members are away and attending remotely, which has created problems when technological glitches pop up. In addition, there have been reports of difficulties discussing plans, maps and charts when those not physically present can’t see the materials.
Town Attorney Laury Dowd has drafted an amendment to the town code on attendance requirements that states: “Members may attend a maximum of two meetings per calendar year via videoconferencing if necessary, but the technical limitations of a videoconference impede the free-flow of ideas and information and should only be used if necessary. There must be a quorum of members present in person for a valid meeting to be held — a videoconferenced member does not count towards the quorum.”
At the Town Board work session Tuesday, it was noted that members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals and Board of Assessment Review, who all receive stipends for their service, rarely, if ever miss meetings or attend remotely.
The town code requires members of these boards to have no more than “two unexcused absences and three excused absences a year.” If those limits are exceeded, the member can be bounced from the board.
Tuesday the Town Board discussed briefly the subject of a member of a committee casting a vote remotely, but tabled that discussion for another time.
The Committee on Open Government, part of New York’s Department of State, has regulations on remote attendance of public meetings. According to the committee’s executive director, Robert Freeman, a member connecting via telephone can’t vote or be counted as part of a quorum, but those participating via a videoconference system can be.
A meeting at which a member or members participate via a videoconference must be advertised in advance with information on where those participating on video actually are, Mr. Freeman said.