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Howard board to continue remote meeting option

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

HOWARD – As long as the village has an emergency declaration in effect related to the COVID-19 pandemic, village board members will be able to participate in remote meetings.

However, with two of the nine board members meeting remotely, they unanimously tabled action Monday, June 8, on an ordinance that could allow them to do so once the pandemic is over.

Board members have had the option to participate in meetings remotely since March 23, two weeks after they approved an emergency management ordinance allowing the board to hold meetings and vote remotely.

“During any attack, quarantine, absence due to travel restrictions imposed by federal order, or in the event of village-declared emergencies, the village board shall have at its own discretion the ability to carry on a voice vote via telecommunications,” the ordinance states. “This includes but is not limited to telephone, secured e-mail, video conference and video phone.”

Howard uses GoToMeeting software to allow remote meeting access by both board members and the public with video online or dialing in with a phone.

Village Administrator Paul Evert said the proposed ordinance the board tabled would have allowed members to participate in meetings remotely by video upon receiving approval by the village president, who would determine whether there is “good cause” to do so.

“For a long time, we didn’t let people appear by phone or video, simply because our ordinance didn’t allow it,” Evert said.

Village President Burt McIntyre said he favored allowing remote board attendance to continue upon the pandemic ending, but it should be “strongly controlled” with “just cause” as to why a board member couldn’t attend in person.
“I’m not in favor of telephone call-in for trustees,” he said. “I’d like everything to be on camera… It’s very difficult to do it by telephone.”

McIntyre said he would want specific guidelines in place for when board members could meet remotely, whether or not approval by the village president is required.

“I would hate to see this be a Wild West thing, where (a board member says), ‘Oh, it’s raining, and I think I’ll stay at home, I won’t go to the meeting tonight, or it’s snowing,’” he said. “To hand this thing wide open to choose for any reason not to attend the meeting, I think it’s not serving your constituency. They expect you to come together as a body and make decisions, interact, be able to look into somebody’s eyes.”

Trustee Ray Suennen said it would be reasonable to not be physically present for a meeting for health reasons should the pandemic reoccur, but he questioned whether meeting remotely should be allowed because a board member is on vacation.

“When I read (the proposed ordinance), my first question is there needs to be defined, and consistency, as far as what sort of issues is the president going to approve,” he said.

Trustee John Muraski said he was concerned about the proposed ordinance’s wording related to the village president having the sole discretion to determine “good cause” for whether a board member would be allowed to meet remotely.

“That strikes me as just a bit overbearing and really cause problems longer term,” he said. “I shouldn’t have to go to the president… to say why I don’t want to be in that meeting.”

Muraski said he favored continuing to allow both board members and the public to attend meetings remotely without there being an emergency or requiring approval by the village president.

Trustee Maria Lasecki, who participated remotely June 8, called herself the “elephant not in the room” because of her challenges to attend a meeting in person, which include a son with cancer.

“I’d like the board to really take into consideration the fact that life can pull the rug out from under you in a moment’s notice,” she said. “It may have nothing to do with this virus, which is horrible.”

Lasecki said using technology could make it possible for board members to live up to their responsibilities as elected officials.

Trustee Craig McAllister said he understands there are valid reasons for board members not being able to attend meetings, but it’s important for them to be physically present.

He said he wouldn’t object to board members having to contact the village president about not being present and wanting to attend a meeting remotely.

Board members agreed to continue Howard’s emergency declaration so the board could keep meeting remotely for the time being.

They also tabled the proposed ordinance to have staff further work on the language and bring back to the board within the next six months to allow remote meeting participation once the pandemic is over.

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