EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 30, 2013

Council OKs remote participation

New rule allows councilors to vote by phone

By Shawn Regan

---- — HAVERHILL — It’s now just a matter of time until City Councilor John Michitson calls in his vote or opines on a local matter from some far-flung locale.

The council unanimously approved an ordinance last night allowing councilors to participate in meetings via by telephone or video — making Haverhill one of a handful governmental bodies in Massachusetts that has adopted a new state law allowing officials to telecommute to municipal meetings.

The council began planning to allow telecommuting in December, primarily because Michitson took a position at his company that requires extensive travel to the Middle East. Michitson, the top vote-getter in the last council election, resigned the council presidency three months ago due to his new work schedule at MITRE Corporation, where he is an electrical engineer.

Last night, Michitson said he has no immediate travel plans, but that he expects his work will dispatch him to the Middle East sometime in March.

“I’m all set to call in,” Michitson said. “All I need is an international phone.”

Councilors will be allowed to participate and vote by phone at council meetings up to six times per year under the ordinance. Communication infrastructure was recently installed in the council’s City Hall meeting room to allow councilors to receive and transmit an audio signal via a speaker phone in the room.

Under rules established by the Attorney General’s Office, elected officials are allowed to attend meetings remotely in instances where they cannot be present due to personal illness or injury, geographical distance, military service or an emergency.

According to Haverhill’s rules, Mayor James Fiorentini can rescind the ordinance at any time by notifying the city clerk in writing.

Other telecommuting rules include: A quorum of the body, including the chairman or the person running the meeting, must be physically present at the meeting location; members of a public body who participate remotely and all people at the meeting location must be clearly audible to each other; and all votes taken during a meeting in which a member participates remotely must be by roll call vote.

Any costs incurred by the city in allowing remote participation must be paid by the councilor who telecommutes.