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Morrison explores electronic council meetings

Council members could plug in under some circumstances

MORRISON – The City Council might allow its members to attend meetings electronically under certain circumstances.

A state statute has been on the books since 2007 that governs attendance via telephone, video or Internet. Public bodies that want to use the electronic option must adopt a policy for it.

The matter was on the agenda for Monday’s council meeting, but it was not an action item. City Administrator Barry Dykhuizen said that nothing specific to Morrison’s council was the impetus to explore the issue now.

“We thought we’d bring it up with our council members; we’re just initiating conversations right now,” Dykhuizen said. “With Skype and other technology, we thought we should think about having a policy in place.”

The city has developed a policy and put it in writing. To attend a meeting – open or closed session – electronically, members must notify the city clerk at least 3 days before the meeting so technology arrangements can be made.

Morrison doesn’t own its meeting place, which could complicate the technology part of the equation.

“Our meetings are in the County Board room,” Dykhuizen said. “I would imagine this would require some expenditures, but I’m not even sure if they have Wi-Fi or phone lines.”

In Morrison, one of three reasons for not attending physically must apply: illness or personal disability; employment reasons or conducting business for the city; a family or other emergency.

Authorization to attend electronically would be given by city officials and the council members physically present at the meeting after guaranteeing a quorum. The city is responsible for making sure adequate equipment is available for an off-site council member.

Members would have all of the same rights when attending remotely. The same policy would apply for all city committee and commission meetings.

Council member Marti Wood said she wanted to know how much the technology would cost, so she can weigh it with what she believes would be minimal benefits.

“It might be more feasible for larger municipalities,” Wood said. “I’m not sure it’s necessary for our city to implement it right now. I don’t think we need the added expense.”

Regarding technology, Wood said she would rather see the city run a live feed from the council meetings.

“Our attendance has been pretty good lately, so I’d rather see the masses have access,” she said. “It’s important that our residents can get this information firsthand.”

In Sterling, City Manager Scott Shumard said electronic attendance has been discussed in the past, but it’s not something the city or council feels strongly about.

“We had discussed it, but never felt we had the need to take advantage of that option,” Shumard said.

Shumard said the allowable reasons for not being present don’t come up that often in Sterling.

“When we have people miss meetings, it’s usually from vacation, and that’s not applicable under the statute,” he said.

Rock Falls broadcasts its council meetings on Channel 5. City Administrator Robbin Blackert said unless a special situation presented itself, council members have no need to participate remotely.

“We have already done quite a bit to put the meetings on Channel 5,” Blackert said, “so we probably don’t need to add another layer of electronics to the council.”

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