To the editor:
I sympathize with Haverhill City Councilor John Michitson’s predicament of having to serve as a city councilor while traveling for his job. I also applaud him for his success as a businessman. However, Haverhill desperately needs the presence of its leaders in the community and teleconferencing into City Council meetings does nothing towards that end.
Five years ago I stood with Peter Torkildsen on the steps of the Statehouse urging the Attorney General to investigate proxy voting gone rampant in the Legislature. Today, House Rule 49 and Senate Rule 57 both allow such a vote, but only when a member has a physical disability preventing him or her from attending session. The mere acts of being at formal meetings and voting are at the very core of what voters elect and pay their representatives to do — in fact, they are the only real obligations.
The Haverhill City Council, although venerable, may not be quite as prestigious as the Massachusetts Great and General Court, but the principles surrounding physical attendance are just as relevant. Although the law detailing telecommunications for official city and town meetings takes pains to provide for clear audio/visual and reception, elements necessary for good governance still cannot be transferred through whatever medium is being used (e.g. Skype). Councilors need to meet with constituents before and after meetings, confer with fellow members and be physically present in the community to adequately represent their city. This simply cannot be done when travelling extensively for work.
Once again, I applaud and respect John Michitson’s desire to serve his city. Yet, as a staffer on Beacon Hill, I have an understanding of the need for presence among constituents to govern effectively. This philosophy is true, too, for our City Council. I ask that either the mayor reject the change or Mr. Michitson find the time to attend meetings.