City Council considers ban on voting by phone

Absent members could not participate in actions
Feb. 28, 2013 @ 05:00 AM

City Council members would be unable to vote unless they are physically present during council meetings under a draft city policy proposed Wednesday.

Sanford City Council members unable to be present at a city council meeting may listen to the meeting, and possibly even participate in the discussion, but would be unable to participate in any actions taken, according to the proposal submitted during the Law and Finance Committee meeting held Wednesday at the Sanford Municipal Center.

The policy stems from a discussion at last week's council meeting, which Councilman Charles Taylor was away during Tuesday's meeting, but listened in by conference call. He wanted to vote via the conference call, but after a 20-minute closed session, council passed a motion ruling that voting could not take place by phone until an official policy was established. Taylor said he agreed the city needed a policy, but he did not agree with the council's decision.

During Wednesday's meeting, City Attorney Susan Patterson said there was no law now concerning whether a council member can vote without being present. She is apprehensive, she said, about Sanford setting a precedent if voting were allowed by phone. If a council member participates this way, Patterson said, there is no way of telling whether the person is under duress, or if the council member is even the one on the phone.

Council member Poly Cohen said council members are elected by the people, and a representative should expect to attend the four meetings every month.

"If you can't meet for four meetings every month, you need to look at your conscience," he said.

Council member Rebecca Wyhof agreed with Cohen, but said it is difficult for young council members to juggle work schedules and the multiple meetings. She recommended a compromise be struck whereby council members can participate remotely if called away from a meeting, but were barred from voting.

The proposal is set to appear on the agenda during next week's city council meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Sanford Municipal Center, located at 224 E. Weatherspoon St.