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Selectmen approve remote participation for boards, committees

Date: 5/1/2012

April 30, 2012

By Chris Maza

WILBRAHAM — The Board of Selectmen recently approved the use of remote participation by the town's boards and committees.

The Selectmen had been considering the new Open Meeting Law regulation, which was announced by Attorney General Martha Coakley on Nov. 18, 2011.

Remote participation allows members of boards and committees to use audio or video conferencing to participate in meetings when they are unable to attend due to personal illness, personal disability, emergency, military service, or geographic distance.

Coakley said in her announcement, "The purpose of these new regulations is to promote greater participation in government, while upholding the main purpose of the Open Meeting Law — transparency. While in certain extenuating circumstances members of public bodies are permitted to participate remotely, we encourage physical attendance when at all possible."

In order for remote participation to be utilized by town committees, it must be adopted by the town's chief executive officer, which in Wilbraham's case, is the Board of Selectmen.

"We made the decision for two reasons," Board of Selectmen Chair Patrick Brady said. "First of all, technology is much, much better than we ever imagined and has created means to make this kind of participation useful. Secondly, we received a specific request from the Open Space and Recreation Committee."

Brady explained that there are stipulations attached to the use of remote participation.

If a member is participating remotely, there must be a physical quorum in the room.

"For example, if it is a nine-person committee, at least five people must physically attend the meeting," Brady said.

Also, the chair of that committee, or whomever is responsible for filling in for the chair, must be present. For example, if Brady was unable to attend a meeting and wished to participate remotely, Board of Selectmen Vice Chair Robert Boilard must be in attendance.

Those who utilize the new Open Meeting Law allowance may listen and take part in discussions as long as all conversation is audible to both those at the meeting and those joining in remotely. However, they would not be allowed to vote.

Brady also stressed that remote participation is to be used in extenuating circumstances only.

"It should be noted that the Board of Selectmen strongly encourages physical attendance at meetings," he said. "In my mind, you need a pretty good reason to use this."

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