FONDA – Members of the Montgomery County Legislative Assembly have embarked on a lengthy debate over a local bill that would allow officials to continue to attend meetings remotely if they are unable to attend by nobody.
Local law introduced at Tuesday’s committee meeting would allow individual lawmakers to join meetings by videoconference if they are unable to physically attend due to “extraordinary circumstances.”
The bill lists as valid reasons for remote assisting “disability, illness, care responsibilities, or any other significant or unexpected factor or event.”
The law would require a quorum of the legislature to meet in person for official business to be conducted, according to Montgomery County attorney Meghan Manion.
An amendment to the Open Meetings Act included in the 2022 state budget allows local governments to allow participation in meetings by videoconference under these conditions through the passage of local law.
The change allows remote meetings to continue that were permitted by executive order during the pandemic while removing language from the Open Meetings Act that previously required officials attending remote meetings to provide public access to their locations. physical.
State budget legislation gave local governments a grace period to continue meeting remotely while putting local laws in place until June 14. The legislature should act before that date if members want to keep the option open.
“[Otherwise] that would mean moving forward to the next month, everyone has to be physically present. There can be no remote participation,” Manion said.
“We’ve done this for many, many years,” District 2 Legislator Brian Sweet responded.
District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell questioned the need for the law and suggested the Legislature might consider passing it if meeting attendance becomes an issue in the future.
“I don’t see the sense of urgency to do it now,” Purtell said. “It was nice to do the video conference via COVID while we were all locked up at home, but I think we have a responsibility to be here in person.”
Still, three members of the Legislative Assembly were unable to attend Tuesday’s meeting and there has been one vacant seat since the death of District 8 Legislator Joe Isabel in January.
Speaker of the Legislature Michael Pepe and District 3 Legislator Roy Dimond participated in this week’s meeting remotely. District 6 Legislator John Duchessi was absent.
The illnesses of Duchessi and Isabel last year, coupled with the occasional absences of other officials, have sometimes prevented a quorum for five-person Legislative Assembly committees that review resolutions before they are sent to the board of directors. administration for review.
To prevent these problems from happening again, the Legislative Assembly has made each subgroup a committee of the whole at least this year.
Although only five of the nine members of the Legislative Assembly are needed to achieve a quorum for the Board of Directors, absences are automatically recorded as “no” votes, which can create obstacles to the passage of legislation if multiple members can’t show up to meetings and there isn’t an option to join remotely.
“I guess I don’t really understand what the downside is,” Dimond said of the local law. “I think that’s something we need to officially have a reunion.”
However, Purtell questioned whether the law as written could be used as an excuse by officials who simply choose not to attend in-person meetings due to inconvenience.
“He has no teeth. He doesn’t have the ability to be controlled,” Purtell said.
District 4 Legislator Robert Headwell, Jr. suggested voters would take action if they challenged the frequent absence or remote attendance of any elected official.
“If we should have learned anything from the virus, it’s that there are other ways to hold meetings and be present when something happens,” Headwell added. “I don’t understand why it’s even a discussion.”
Sweet mostly took issue with the resolution’s use of broad language, saying he wanted more time to think about local law before considering passing it. Dimond pointed out that he would have a week to think about it.
Officials ultimately voted 6-2 to remove the local law from committee and put it on the agenda for the regular meeting of the Legislative Assembly next Tuesday. District 1 Legislator Martin Kelly and Purtell voted against the action.
Contact Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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