Wednesday, January 27, 2016

To Be There, Or Not To Be There, That Is the Question

At their last meeting, the Middletown Board of Education tabled a vote on a change in policy that would allow a Board member to "attend" a meeting via teleconference.

At the December 8, 2015 meeting of the Board, chairperson Vinnie Loffredo indicated that Board member Deborah Cain was not able to attend the meeting at council chambers due to out-of-the-country travel for her employer.  Cain requested the ability to attend via a phone connection.  Loffredo said that a legal opinion from city lawyers indicated that the request was legitimate, and that it was a legal procedure.

"The ruling was presented to me that it was totally permissible," Loffredo said.

While the board is legally allowed to accept attendance via phone line, it is not required to do so.

Cain "attended" the December 8 meeting via a Skype connection.

At the next scheduled meeting, on January 12, Cain was again out of the country, and again "attended" the meeting via a phone connection.  She was also connected via phone for the January 27 meeting.

At the Jan 12 meeting, the Board considered a change in policy that would specifically allow a single board member to seek permission to virtually attend a meeting of the Board.  The new language (below) would make specific, the Board's intent to allow virtual attendance of meetings based on a case-by-case basis and consensus of the Board.

After some discussion at the meeting, Board member Sheila Daniels asked for action on the changed policy to be tabled until such time as the Board could seek out public comment on the change.  The Board voted unanimously to table the vote.

Public comment on the issue sprang to life on Facebook today when respected sportswriter, and retired Middletown public school teacher Jim Bransfield opined that he thought it was a bad idea to allow virtual attendance, and solicited the views of others.

Bransfield expanded his argument Wednesday.

While the BOE meets Tuesday January 26, a vote on the change in policy is not on the agenda.

(Language for the amended Board of Eduation attendance policy)
Electronic Participation

Recognizing the inherent responsibility and statutory duties of Board of Education members, the Board of Education (Board) strongly encourages Board members to physically attend and participate at meetings of the Board. 

The Board of Education authorizes that the Board Chairperson or presiding officer may allow one (1) Board member to participate electronically in a Board meeting if there is good cause why the Board member cannot attend in person and the request is received by noon on the preceding day to allow a good quality electronic connection to be set up.  The member who participates in a Board meeting through electronic means shall be counted in the quorum.  Due to security concerns, electronic participation in closed executive sessions, including expulsion hearings will not be permitted, and all electronic participation shall be disconnected.  All votes by the member who is attending by teleconference shall be taken by roll call. The Board member may not simply vote electronically, but must be connected at the commencement of the meeting and throughout the discussion of business.

When a Board member participates electronically, the member will be considered present and will have his or her actual physical presence excused.   The Board Secretary will document it in the Minutes when the member participates in the meeting electronically.

At the commencement of the meeting:

       the Board Chair will announce there is one (1) board member participating electronically;
       the member participating electronically shall share the reason for such participation;
o      Any member of the board may object to the attendance of a member attending electronically.  If such objection is made and seconded, the Chair shall call for a vote on the issue.  Only those members physically present may vote on such matter.  If the objection is sustained, electronic communication shall be disconnected and such member shall not be considered present for the meeting;
       the Board Chair will ensure that the two-way communication is audible to the public and the electronically participating board member; and
the Board secretary will document in the minutes when a member 


Anonymous said...

I see two issues: (1) Should there be remote participation? (2) If remote participation is permitted, should it be on a case-by-case basis with a vote on each case?

I lean against allowing it at all (similar but non-identical argument as that against proxy voting), but don't feel strongly on the point.

But I am fired up against case-by-case decision, without enforceable criteria. The possibility of manipulation is baked in.

Suppose a member seeking remote participation is expected to make or break a tie on some hot issue?

Those voting on remote participation would be tempted to act on the request so as to affect the vote on the hot issue. That's poison.

Maybe that could be cured by a rule that the vote of a remote participant would not count when it would make or break a tie. Half a loaf.

Anonymous said...

This has potential for abuse. Already Ms. Cain has missed 3 out of 4 meetings which raises even bigger issues of her ability to devote the necessary time to this board. Maybe amend the policy so you get one chance a year to play the electronic participation card. There's also the question of authentication if not by Skype how do you really know if the person is who they say they are. It's a slippery slope if you open this can.

Anonymous said...

Thought Deborah Cain is in the UK for the next several months. While I understand everyone has work commitments, being out of the country for extended periods of time doesnt afford her the ability to effectively serve. The mayor of West Hartford is resigning because his work obligations are taking him out of the country. We deserve someone who has the time to spend for us.