AZTEC — City commissioners want to amend an ordinance to allow themselves to appear via electronic devices to ensure quorum requirements are met for public meetings.
The proposed change comes at the behest of City Attorney Larry Thrower. He advised the cancelation of an April 23 commission meeting when commissioners Jim Crowley, Roberta Clover and Eugene Current were absent.
Though Crowley was available to attend electronically using the FaceTime application on his city-provided iPad, Thrower warned that the city's own ordinance was not in compliance with the state's Open Meetings Act, which allows for electronic appearances for the purpose of a quorum. A quorum sets a minimum number of commissioners who must be present before the commission can make binding decisions.
The primary sponsor of a 1993 amendment to the act was state Sen. Janice Paster, D-Albuquerque, who added language allowing a member to participate in a public meeting via the Internet.
"A member of a public body may participate in a meeting of the public body by means of a conference telephone or other similar communications equipment when it is otherwise difficult or impossible for the member to attend the meeting in person, provided that each member participating by conference telephone can be identified when speaking, all participants are able to hear each other at the same time and members of the public attending the meeting are able to hear any member of the public body who speaks during the meeting," according to the amended state law.
With only Mayor Sally Burbridge and Commissioner Sherri Sipe in attendance at the April 23 meeting, Thrower recommended the meeting be canceled and the city ordinance be updated to avoid another cancelation.
"The state open meetings act provides that you can achieve quorum by electronic means," Thrower said. "But our administrative ordinance didn't provide for that. This is just a matter of updating the language."
Commissioners -- provided at least three of them are physically present at the commission meeting tonight -- will have the chance to ensure city code officially matches the state's."
Crowley has used his iPad to participate, but he was not needed for a quorum, he said.
"It's near-perfect system," Crowley said of Apple's video conferencing software. "It can cause problems sometimes when you're stuck waiting for the screen to unfreeze, especially if you try to access files (while the application is running). So I always have a hard copy (of the meeting agenda) in hand to ensure things run smoothly."
Crowley, one of the more technologically savvy commissioners, said commissioners received iPads more than two years ago.
Of late, he has been electronically participating at meetings more often than not due to health reasons.
Since last fall, he has undergone treatment in Phoenix for colon cancer. His medical visits to Arizona have meant bimonthly trips for a week at a time.
Crowley has made marked progress combating the cancer that upended his personal and professional schedules and is looking forward to attending meetings in person.
"I'm ready to be on the recuperating end of things," he said.
Thrower noted that he has only missed two meetings in eight years.
"I consider it a point of pride to attend meetings," he said. "One time, my wife and I were camping and there was no phone service where we were, so I had to drive along for five or so miles to the top of a mountain to finally get enough connectivity on my (cell) phone to be able to call in."
Thrower mostly defers to his wife on matters of computer use, but sees no reason why he won't use video conferencing technology to participate in a meeting in the future.
"My wife is an expert on Skype for family calls and the like," he said. "Sometime I'll catch up and get there."
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.