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Haverhill

December 5, 2012

Attend council meetings by video?

Public debate sought on telecommuting proposal

HAVERHILL — City Council will hear from the public before deciding whether to let councilors attend government meetings remotely by telephone or video conferencing.

The council is considering the telecommuting measure because councilor John Michitson recently took a new position at his company that requires extensive travel to California and the Middle East. It would apply to all councilors, however.

If passed, Haverhill would become one first governmental bodies in Massachusetts to adopt a new state law allowing elected officials to participate and vote at meetings by telephone or video. Rules for implementing the law were recently developed by the Attorney General’s Office.

Under those rules, 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.

“This is an opportunity to move Haverhill forward and into the 21st Century,” said Councilor William Macek, who proposed the measure. “In a structured format of necessity it would allow a councilor to participate when they can’t be here in person. This is proven technology that is used all over the world.”

Councilor Michael McGonagle was the only councilor to voice apprehension, but he said he would likely support the proposal in the end.

“I’m not totally against it,” McGonagle said. “But I’ve heard from some people that feel if a city councilor can’t make it to meetings, maybe they should do something else.”

Councilors agreed they will ask City Solicitor William Cox to draft a proposal that they will send to a study committee for debate and changes.

A public hearing will be held before the measure is sent back to the full committee for a vote.

Mayor James Fiorentini has said he supports the idea.

“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 in a prior interview. “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.”

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