Council looks at remote meetings

by Daniel Schere

The Winston-Salem city council is exploring an alternativemethod of holding meetings in the event that a council member cannot bepresent.

In preparation for the 2015 session of the North CarolinaGeneral Assembly, the council approved a short list of local issues that theywill be advocating for in the coming year. They include expanding the use ofparking meters to cash and credit cards, restoring the historic preservationand film tax credits and allowing absent council members to participate incouncil meetings through the use of technology.

The council approved the resolution by a vote of seven toone, with councilman Robert Clark dissenting. He expressed skepticism aboutcouncil members being part of meetings in ways that are not face-to-face.

“I have always had concerns about the ability to attendmeetings via video versus in-person,” he said. “I think there is something tobe said for being here in-person where we can interact.”

When Clark asked whether remote participation was common inany elected bodies between Washington DC and Raleigh City attorney AngelaCarmon replied that there were some on the east coast that had embraced theidea.

“The whole purpose of this would be to allow council memberswho may not be able to attend, maybe they’re not feeling well enough to comedown, and participate remotely through electronic means or Skype or somethinglike that they can be heard and seen during the course of that meeting,” shesaid. “And voting would occur where the person can be also seen and heard interms of voting and the public could be seen and heard as well.”

The vote gives the council the authority to enact a lawallowing the practice in the future, although they will need to determine morespecific criteria.

The proposal would only apply to official meetings, definedas “a meeting, assembly, or gathering together at any time or place or thesimultaneous communication by conference telephone or other electronic means ofa majority of the members of a public body for the purpose of conductinghearings, participating in deliberations, or voting upon or otherwisetransacting the public business within the jurisdiction, real or apparent, ofthe public body.” Informal and social gatherings would not be included.

Councilwoman Denise Adams noted that Winston-Salem recentlyreceived recognition for its use of technology””something she said they ought toembrace.

“There are some cities that are doing it already, but Ithink this is another step that we need to take,” she said. “I know, forinstance we have council members who are no different than anybody else. Webecome ill, it becomes more than just being able to be here. One meeting maylast a month or two. We have people with loved ones that leave us, and wesometimes have to take time off and deal with family members and children.”

Councilman James Taylor Jr. agreed that the proposal madesense in accommodating the council’s needs.

“I think as our community continues to grow and expand wehave to keep up with the times,” he said.