Friday, September 26, 2008

Remote Participation

Should a school board member be allowed to participate in a meeting if they cannot be present physically? That issue is now being discussed by the Board Policies Committee based on my request. Although I am confident this measure will be passed on to the full board for a vote, it may meet with some opposition.

Although I have been in attendance for every board meeting since my election, there is always a chance that I may have to travel out of town because of my job, and I will not be able to attend a meeting in person. In such cases, I would like the option to participate in the meeting via telephone or video conference. Seems like a reasonable request, doesn't it? Corporations and non profit organizations conduct business every day with their board of directors via remote access, so why shouldn't Neshaminy? If we're boasting technology as part of our Classroom for the Future initiative, how can we not take advantage of a 19th century invention like the telephone?

While most of my fellow board members supported this idea and agreed that it be sent to Board Policies for development, some did not agree. They expressed a view that a board member should be physically present or else they should not be allowed to participate in a meeting. While I agree that being physically present at a meeting is always preferable, it's difficult to imagine in this day and age that anyone would deny an elected official the ability to use modern (or even not-so-modern) technology so that his/her voice can be heard.

I should also mention that the state supreme court is on my side with their ruling of Babac v. Pennsylvania Milk Marketing Board (Pa. 1992).

This issue will be discussed at the next Board Policies meeting on Wednesday, October 15th at 6pm in the Board Room at Maple Point. I would most sincerely appreciate some support from citizens who believe as I do, so I hope to see you there. In the meantime, you can chime in on this subject by completing the Readers Poll to the right.


Pianomom said...

I cannot believe this is even up for debate. Why is it that some board members have to be dragged into the 21st century kicking and screaming. I voted for you Mr. O'Connor, and I want you to represent us at the meetings whether you are there in person or by telephone. There are some other board members I prefer just stay home.

JS said...

I would have to say no to this idea unless strict provisions and rules are outlined for it.

There are some that take the position seriously and put the appropriate effort and time into it. Others may look for an easy way out. I just think it may open the door to people not feeling to show up much at all and just "phone it in".

William O'Connor said...

JS: I appreciate your concerns but what guarantee do you have that just because a board member shows up means they're engaged? You don't think board members have "phoned it in" even though they were physically present?

I want to reassure you that there will be provisions made so that a board member can't just call in to a meeting for purposes of convenience. A board member must be physically unable to attend, they must have prepared for the meeting, and they must be communicating real time with other board members at the meeting so that active discussions can occur.

I hope you believe in my commitment to this board and this district, and you will accept and support my explanation. Believe me, it would be easier not to participate in meetings if I'm on a business trip. Some of my trips will be overseas to Europe where it's 6+ hours later than here, yet I am willing to put forth that effort because of my commitment to Neshaminy. Fortunately I don't think the situation will come up that often, but I'd like the ability to participate remotely when the occasion arises.

And to restate a point I made earlier, the law is on my side in this case. But I don't want your support because of the law - I want your support because you believe in what I am doing.

KClarinet said...

I think it's better to have all nine members voting and participating in public discussion, whether they're in the meeting room or not. It would become obvious to everyone if a member abused this and made a habit of "phoning in" from home or some more convenient location.

I must be living in Jersey said...

I'll take you on the phone over some of those others in person any day of the week. Neshaminy needs to get with the times. Why would anyone stand in the way of a board member willing to go to extaordinary lengths to be part of a meeting? We need to encourage this kind of behavior from our elected officials.

JS said...

I never intended to infer that you would be one to abuse the system. It's just that there would be undoubtedly people who would look to push the limits.

If it could be ensured that no one would take advantage of the system it would be more than reasonable to institute that practice.

Of one note. At least currently if a board member "phone's it in" in person we at least have video evidence of them not caring.