SALISBURY- Advances in technology have the Salisbury City Council considering the use of electronic teleconferencing during meetings.
With video chat programs like Skype and its equivalents widely available to the public, the boundary between physically being in a location and communicating with that location are shrinking. While the council has required members wishing to take part in discussion to be in the room in the past, they are now considering allowing conference calls and steaming video to connect otherwise detained council members with the rest of the assembly.
However, not everyone on the council thought this form of progress was the way to go.
“I think some things should be traditional in council meetings,” said Councilmember Eugenie Shields.
Shields asserted that constituents expected those that governed them to put for the effort to meet in person, face-to-face.
“This type of job, people want to see elected officials around this table,” she said.
“We’re expected to be here,” she added. “Everything doesn’t have to have new technology…I think limitations should be made.”
While Shields was the most vocal in her opposition to members being allowed to use technology to join meetings, several of her colleagues questioned the feasibility of the topic. Councilmember Tim Spies pointed out that, with audio-only conferencing, it might be hard to verify identity of the speaker.
“Is this really John Jones we’re talking to?” he joked.
Councilmember Laura Mitchell noted that it would be difficult to supply the conferencing member with any last minute materials or information the rest of the council had. But despite their concerns, the council at large recognized a number of benefits.
“The public is better served when we make it as accessible as possible for our elected officials to participate,” said Councilmember Deborah Campbell.
Council President Terry Cohen reminded the assembly that conferencing would likely only be used for work sessions and not closed meetings. Additionally, limits could be placed on how often a council member is allowed to call in.
“It’s not something I see becoming routine,” she said.
Whether or not any votes cast by council members via audio or video conference would be legal was brought up. City Attorney Paul Wilber gave the opinion that the council should have the authority to make conference votes binding. The council agreed to further discuss specifics in the future.