EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

June 16, 2013

Committee considers remote attendance

NORTH ANDOVER — With people doing a lot more job-related traveling and technologies such as Skype allowing a person on the other side of the globe to be just a click away, it makes sense that governmental boards would talk about letting absent members participate in their deliberations.

The School Committee has asked that its members be given the right of remote participation, which is allowed by state law as long as the selectmen approve. Two School Committee members, Brian Gross and Andrew McDevitt, do a lot of job-related journeying and would like to contribute to the board’s discussions if business requires them to be elsewhere.

School Committee Chairwoman Laurie Burzlaff told the selectmen Monday night the board proposes giving each member the option of remote participation twice a year. The board member would not be permitted the privilege if he or she is on vacation, but it would be allowed for job-related trips and illness.

Burzlaff said her committee does not want to encourage members to miss meetings.

Selectman Tracy Watson said allowing remote participation could put the town on a slippery slope, eventually leading to “phone-in government.”

“You never know until you try,” Burzlaff said.

“I’d like to support it but I can’t,” Selectman Rosemary Connelly Smedile said. If a member cannot attend a particular meeting, she pointed out, the board can postpone a vote, she noted.

“If it makes the job of the School Committee easier,” Selectman Donald Stewart said, he would support it.

If remote participation causes problems, School Committee member Stanley Limpert said, “you can always rescind.”

Like Watson, Smedile said she would not want to see a remote participation policy lead to members of boards, committees and other bodies shirking their duties.

“Would any of us want to have a jury trial without all jurors present?” she asked.

The selectmen decided to let the School Committee go ahead with remote participation after the former board develops a townwide policy on the matter.

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