Paterson Councilman Asks to Telecommute to Meeting

Credits: Brittney M. Brown
Credits: Brittney M. Brown
Credits: Brittney M. Brown
Credits: Brittney M. Brown

PATERSON, NJ - It’s no secret that technology has made life’s most tedious tasks more convenient for us.

Instead of going to a bank to make a deposit, you can now snap a picture of your check. With the swipe of a finger the funds will become available in your account.

Instead of going to your 20-year high school reunion, you can see how your old friends turned out by simply clicking through their photos on Facebook.

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Now, if councilmembers are unable to attend meetings they may opt to take part in the meeting via a video conferencing system, but not without some strong objections from their peers and meeting attendees.

During last night’s council meeting, a laptop with an attached web cam was stationed at the desk of Councilman Julio Tavarez. Tavarez, who has been absent for more than five previous meetings, was unable to attend join the council for unknown reasons. 

Council President Andre Sayegh was notified early Tuesday about the possibility of Tavarez attending the meeting through the web. Upon the discovery, Sayegh turned to corporation counsel for a legal opinion.

Corporation counsel stated that an absent councilmember could in fact attend and participate in council meetings through a conferencing system if the member met specified guidelines.

“We received a legal opinion,” said Sayegh, responding to the question of whether Tavarez should be allowed to phone into the meeting.

Tavarez had not yet conferenced into the meeting when the council voted 6-1 to disable the device.  It was never determined if Tavarez had intentions on eventually telecommuting to the meeting.  

Councilman Sayegh, who voted against disabling the device, argued that Tavarez was not attempting to vote on any matters..

“Councilman Tavarez is not vocal on any item tonight. (He) simply wanted to watch like everyone else,” said Sayegh. “My vote is no.”

“Shut it down,” yelled residents in the audience.

Despite how residents felt, had Tavarez decided to participate in the meeting via phone, it would be legally permissible if he met all specifications, according to corporation counsel.

Councilmembers may not vote to meet a quorum through phoning system, but if a quorum is met, he can actively participate in the voting process.

First, the absent person must be on speakerphone and be able to hear everything said in the room in additional to the public being able to hear everything said by the absent individual.  Second, the councilmember must be able to participate in the entire discussion on the subject at hand. Third, all procedural aspects of the meeting must be regulated all to respect, as stated by corporation counsel.

Although phoning into a council meeting is legally permissible, Councilman William McKoy said such activity does not belong at an official city council meeting.

“Where are we taking the standards of the council?” asked McKoy.

McKoy, who attended the council meeting despite it being his 30th wedding anniversary, argued that council members should be physically present during meetings and called the act an “abomination.”

“You’re being paid to be here to engage, for me to see you eyeball to eyeball, and to discuss the issue and vote on the matter,” said McKoy.

Although Tavarez’ request may seem unconventional at best, and negligent at worst, he’s not alone in his actions.

Private businesses and government employment continue to see an increase in telecommuting, according to Global Workplace Analysis. The use of telecommuting by state government employees grew by 114 percent, according to the company’s survey. Local government employees increased their use by 67 percent.

Regardless of the numbers, Patersonians did not seem keen on the idea of councilmembers phoning in instead of being able to see them with there own eyes.

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