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Point/Counterpoint: Should local council's school boards and county supervisors be permitted to hold electronic meetings?
Sunday, March 10, 2013
To remove any confusion, neither HB 2026 nor the existing state law allows a meeting to be held unless a quorum of the public body is in the room the entire time.
When the legislation was debated, no one argued that the current law, which already allows electronic participation in the case of an emergency, discouraged citizen involvement in government meetings. The new law simply adds a provision that allows a member of a public body to participate electronically if a “personal matter” arises, and that under limited circumstances I explained last week. Whether it’s an emergency or personal matter, to participate electronically, the law requires that
“(t)he public body make arrangements for the voice of the remote participant to be heard by all persons at the primary or central meeting location.”
Yes, it’s preferable to have face-to-face meetings and not just voices on a telephone line deciding the public’s business, but the law has safeguards against abusing the new privilege. Reader comments effectively captured the issues the General Assembly considered with HB 2026: “If you can’t do the time (make it to meetings) don’t do the crime (volunteer)” is valid. The legislature, however, sided with the reader who stated matter-of-factly that “remote meetings, teleconferences, etc., are standard everywhere.” Even Megan Rhyne’s own description of Skyping with her niece in Uruguay demonstrates how we readily adopt new technology. Most readers didn’t need an explanation of what Skype or FaceTime are. It’s how we roll.
HB 2026 doesn’t wipe out public interaction with boards, councils and commissions. It only takes us one small step toward recognizing that modern technology is relevant to government, just as it is to other aspects of our lives. I’m confident that electronic participation in public meetings will remain the exception and not the rule under the provisions of HB 2026.
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