HAUPPAUGE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Teleconferencing is the way of the world. No longer must you physically be in a meeting to weigh in.
But should elected officials have that same ability when it comes to governing? It’s a question Suffolk County lawmakers are grappling with, CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Monday.
Suffolk Legislator Susan Berland recently spoke via Skype from vacation in Key West, Fla., but she didn’t want to miss important committee meetings next week so she made what she considered a simple request to attend via Skype.
“I can’t tell you how many of my friends Skype with their grandchildren,” Berland said. “I’m available to my constituents seven days a week and I don’t think it should be any different just because I can’t physically be in the building.”
Berland’s request prompted a proposed change in Suffolk’s charter, allowing a legislator to be considered “present and voting” even if they are not physically there.
But not so fast, said fellow legislators. To them, a vote is not like Skyping with a grandchild.
“The person on the other end would have to be seen and that person would have to see the audience as well,” Legislator DuWayne Gregory said.
Nearly 20 years after a state statute permitted videoconferencing in public meetings, Suffolk’s legislative chambers aren’t fully equipped with cameras and microphones to make that possible. Upgrades could cost $40,000.
Because the legislative chamber isn’t fully wired, Berland, a Democrat, said she had to withdraw her proposal. But it begs the question: when it comes to public officials’ meetings, is their physical presence even needed for a discussion and votes?
Legislator Tom Cilmi said he prefers dignified face-to-face interaction for the job of lawmaking.
“Being a member of the Legislature and voting on bills that come before the Legislature, bills which are potentially tremendously impactful to the residents you represent, I think requires your presence there,” said Cilmi, a Republican representing East Islip.
A committee will now look into creating teleconferencing guidelines. Berland said she will attend in person.
Assemblyman Doug Smith of Holbrook is introducing legislation to prohibit any paid elected official in New York state from casting a vote without being physically present.