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Howard board continues remote meeting option

By Kevin Boneske
Staff Writer

HOWARD – Though the village board and staff met Monday, June 28, like they had prior to the pandemic – without wearing masks and closer than 6 feet apart – they and the public will continue to have the option to participate in meetings remotely.

Village Administrator Paul Evert said Howard has used GoToMeeting website-hosted programming since April 2020 to offer a virtual option for both public participation and trustee attendance.

“When the pandemic first hit, we had three or four trustees (attend in-person),” he said. “As health conditions changed, more and more of you came back. For a while we had you spread out… Now we’re going to be back sitting next to each other. It seems as though, at least in our area, we’ve gotten to a point where new cases (of COVID-19) are so rare that the county’s not even sending out the daily email updates like they used to.”

Evert said village staff wanted to know what the board wanted to do in the future concerning remote access and participation in meetings.

The Howard village board, which had all nine members present in-person, voted 8-1 to allow board members to not have to be physically present to vote and discuss matters at meetings.

Trustee Craig McAllister, who cast the lone dissenting vote, said board members should be physically present for meetings.

“I honestly feel if something’s important, you need to put the effort in and come,” he said. “I’m not opposed to having the meetings sent out to the public. I think that that’s a good idea, but I do feel that we should be here, and I so strongly, strongly, strongly feel that if you have a project that you’re pitching and you’re trying to present in front of the board and staff, you should also be here.”

Trustee Ray Suennen, who requested a separate vote on whether the board and the public could participate remotely, said there are circumstances when board members may not be able to attend meetings in-person, such as being out of the area on a job or on vacation.

“I don’t see the need for the general public (to participate remotely in meetings),” he said. “My preference would be to allow the trustees to be able to participate (remotely).”

Trustee John Muraski said he favored using technology to have more transparency in government.

“I certainly agree that the trustees ought to be able to participate (remotely),” he said. “But I don’t think we should give up on the public transparency.”

Muraski said he didn’t believe the remote option for the public should stop, “because we haven’t had great attendance on video.”

“I really believe that we should, in the spirit of openness – it’s a bit more effort and probably a bit more cost – but in the spirit of openness and transparency, I believe we should continue broadcasting these…,” he said.

Muraski said board members who have flu-like symptoms shouldn’t come to a meeting, and the remote option would allow them to still participate.

Trustee Maria Lasecki said participating in meetings remotely at home is not ideal, but she was fortunate to previously be able to do that with her family circumstances.

“I don’t think that it would ever be a situation – I hate to say never, but – that it would be abused because frankly, it doesn’t work as ideally as what you’d like to believe it does,” she said. “There’s a certain element of communication and relationship and collaboration and representation if you will, that’s important for being here (in person). But with that said, life does happen, and there are reasons why you can’t be here – good, bad and otherwise… It’s true for our constituents as well.”

Village President Burt McIntyre said he opposed the motion to allow the public to participate in board meetings remotely because he didn’t like the separate motions with one applying for the board and another for the public.

“These separation motions are not going to connect at some point, I’m afraid,” he said. “Until I understand the overall uses, I’m not going to go the separation route.”

The board’s motion to continue remote meeting participation with the public also passed 8-1 with McIntyre the lone dissenter.

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