Town Councilors Will Be Able to Participate in Meetings by Video Conferencing

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The Town Council voted to allow members to take part in meetings remotely by linking in using video conferencing technology, but only under certain circumstances.

Under the new policy, a Councilor may participate in a meeting if he or she has an acceptable reason and is able to hook into the meeting and see, hear and be heard by the other board members.

Only one or a few members may participate remotely, said Councilor Ken Woodland, who presented the proposal Tuesday night. The board must have a quorum of members physically present at the meeting to hold the meeting, he said. In the case of the Council that is five of the nine members.

There are only certain allowed reasons for being a remote participant, Woodland said.

“It can’t be because I want to watch the Pats game,” Woodland said. “The Attorney General is clear on what is an acceptable excuse.”

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s site has a page on the Open Meeting Law that includes remote participation. The site indicates there are five acceptable reasons: personal illness, personal disability, emergency, military service and geographic distance.

Councilor Tony Palomba wondered if the policy would apply to other committees in town. Woodland said it would not immediately apply to all town boards and committees, but with the Council adopting the policy the other boards and committees could vote to allow remote participation.

The same issue came up four years ago, but did not get out of the subcommittee level. Things have changed, Woodland said, and it is more common.

“The Appeals Court has judges appearing on screens and participating,” Woodland said. “If it is good enough for the courts it’s good enough for us.”

The Council voted unanimously to adopt the remote participation policy.

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