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January 17, 2013

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January 17, 2013

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Petition by the Trans Board for remote attendance

One great thing about the communications revolution in the 21st century is the ability to bring together people to interact regardless of geographic location. Tools made possible by communications technology allow government and industry to tap people and resources, so that groups – whether town boards, corporate boards and workgroups or academic classrooms – can be more inclusive of people who might benefit the mission.
The purpose of open meetings laws is to increase and ensure fair participation in government, not limit it. The UNC School of Government weighed in on the use of electronic participation at a September meeting of board members and commissioners, saying that there was nothing in the NC law to prevent electronic participation, either for members or the public. There is no reason any citizen – a home-bound citizen or a board member – should be prevented from electronically attending a meeting due to geographic conflicts given the state of technology.
This petition is not about the desire to duck meetings. It is precisely about supporting the mission of government to serve the people. If the mission is kept at its proper priority over narrow-minded legalism, pragmatic interpretations of laws can occur to the benefit if the citizens.
As an example, I regulated the automotive industry for the Federal government, when the regulations on automotive lighting, which have the force of law, limited the industry to the use of incandescent bulbs. The crafters of the regulations never contemplated LED technology, headlights that could shine around curves or other technology breakthroughs in visibility and conspicuity. Yet, these technologies advanced our mission to improve safety and fuel economy. Our lawyers were thus tasked with re-interpreting some regulations and rewriting others to allow the mission to be accomplished under the law. Yes, there were naysayers, some on legalistic, fundamentalist grounds, but others legitimately concerned that LEDs could be dangerous by blinding drivers to the rear. Therefore, once the policy is set, the important next step is competent implementation, which usually quells the skeptical.
Likewise, in this instance, if there is worry about the degradation of town board meetings by the evils of electronic technology, the policy can be implemented to mitigate those concerns. For example, a quorum of members could still be required to be physically present, so that a critical mass of touchable humans is present in case an interested citizen wants to appear, without closing out other citizens or members who may need to participate telephonically.
Resistance to change is understandable, and not unique to Chapel Hill. What is not understandable is a condescending cheap shot at a board of community volunteers by a blogger who, quite ironically, doesn’t have to “get off the couch” to express an uninformed opinion to thousands. Civility has failed. Or is that the "Chapel Hill way?"

Jeff Runge more than 1 year ago

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