EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Haverhill

November 27, 2012

City weighs letting councilors attend meetings by phone, video conferencing

Haverhill would be one of first to use new law

HAVERHILL — City Councilor John Michitson isn’t sure how many council meetings he can attend next year, now that he has taken a new role at his company that requires extensive travel to California and the Middle East.

But he still might be able to have perfect attendance if the council becomes one of the first governmental bodies in Massachusetts to adopt a new state law allowing elected officials to participate and vote at meetings by telephone or video conferencing.

The law and rules to implement it were developed by the Attorney General’s Office. The law allows remote participation, or telecommuting, by members of governmental boards if there is “a strong and dependable audio or video signal and a quorum of members is physically present,” City Solicitor William Cox said.

Councilor William Macek said he intends to propose the law be adopted at the council’s Dec. 4 meeting. Mayor James Fiorentini said he will go along with the council’s preference on the matter.

Cox said the attorney general’s rules for telecommuting require the mayor to authorize it before it can be used. Fiorentini said he was initially against the concept, but has changed his mind.

“I wouldn’t want someone to miss all or most meetings because it’s important for elected officials to be there in person,” the mayor said. “For instance, there are things that take place at meetings that can’t happen by teleconference, such as talking to residents in the hallway. But if it’s used sparingly, I don’t have a problem with it and I’ll sign off on it if the council passes it.”

Fiorentini said some councilors have expressed concerns about the proposal to him privately, but that he doesn’t know if they will make those concerns public. He declined to elaborate.

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