HARBERT — After discussion on the matter during their April 22 meeting, members of the Chikaming Township Park Board voted to approve a motion allowing, with stipulations, members unable to be present at their meetings the opportunity to participate in them by means of two-way electronic communications provided that the requirements of the Open Meetings Handbook regarding remote participation by members of a public body are observed.
Member Arthur Anderson, who has researched the subject and has led the effort to allow physically absent members to participate in meetings via telecommunications, noted that on March 29 state law was amended and now mandates that public bodies establish procedures to accommodate the absence of any member of the public body due to military duty.
Anderson noted that no current members of the Park Board are members of the military, that could change in the future.
He also noted, among other things, that since the Park Board members were elected rather than appointed they were legally empowered to make their own policies and bylaws independent of the members of the Township Board, and that any bylaw or procedure adopted by the Park Board has no precedent for the Township Board.
The Township Board, after consultation with township attorney Charles Hilmer, has decided for the present not to formulate any policy language regarding participation in meetings via means of two-way electronic communications by members of boards or commissions who may be unable to be physically present.
Among other stipulations present in the bylaws amendments, Park Board members may be allowed to participate remotely if they are sick or taking care of a sick family member; they are caring for a family member who needs monitoring and are unable to make alternative arrangements in advance; they are traveling, and returning to the meeting place would be difficult, hazardous, or unduly expensive; or if they are currently serving in the military and are unable to appear at a meeting.
In addition, those members participating in meetings remotely must provide their actual fixed locations to the Park Board, and that location must be accessible to the public if required by the Open Meetings Act.
Also, a quorum of at least four of the seven member Park Board must be physically present at the public meeting place in order for meetings to be conducted.
Voting to approve the amended bylaws were Anderson, Kathy Sellers, Jill Underhill and Joseph Reed. Voting no were Shelly Taylor and Janet Schrader. Chairperson Deborah Hall-Kayler Abstained.
Prior to the vote Schrader commented that it made it appear that the Park Board was not working in unity with the Township Board.
“We need to show good faith and have a good working relationship with the Township Board,” she said.
Anderson said that he didn’t feel there would be any fallout with the Township Board over the issue.
“We can agree to disagree on the matter of the use of telecommunications,” he commented.