HICKS COLUMN: Bad idea for Charleston City Countil to meet by phone

This is one call the city attorney's office shouldn't even have to take.

Some Charleston City Council members want to have guidelines for when it's OK to attend meetings via phone or “other electronic device.”

Never is a good starting point.

The other week, the council's Real Estate Committee met by conference call. There was only one item on the agenda, it just took a few minutes, and most of the committee members were scattered around town with other things to do.

It was legal, and there probably aren't a lot of folks clamoring to sit in on such a snoozefest.

But citizens should have the option — in case, you know, they have insomnia.

So now Mayor Pro Tem Dudley Gregorie is asking the city's legal staff to look into a set policy for taking part in meetings without actually being there. He just wants some ground rules here, it's not necessarily that he's in favor of it. Hey, even the guys who called in to the committee meeting aren't really keen on the idea.

That's a good thing, because it's a bad idea.

Proxy moxie

Councilwoman Kathleen Wilson says there's no way she would call into a meeting from home while wearing pink bunny slippers.

“That's why we're paid — to show up,” Wilson says. “I'm old-school. I like to see the person I'm talking to, read their body language.”

No matter if it is legal under state law, Wilson says phoning in to vote should not be allowed, particularly if money is involved.

Even a minor issue is worth a trip to City Hall, she says. And she's not alone.

Councilman Dean Riegel says this sort of thing is fine for businesses, which live by the conference call, or for all those people who telecommute. But it's not OK for public officials.

“We've got absentee parents, absentee landlords. Do we really need absentee politicians?” Riegel says.

Well, there are some politicians we'd like to see permanently absent from the public stage, but in general terms, he's right.

If city business could be handled by a phone call, everyone in the city could just dial in a vote to some call center, and we wouldn't need a council.

Hmmm.

Far, far away

This is nothing new.

The Charleston County School Board used to allow member Elizabeth Kandrac to phone in for specially called meetings.

For some reason, she was never quite close enough to make it down to 75 Calhoun St.

But this is a slippery slope. What's next — Skyping? Could City Council become a Google+ circle? At least they wouldn't have to run the A/C at City Hall. But we shouldn't give them any ideas.

You know, in those Star Wars movies, some of the Jedis attended meetings by hologram. They would be projected right into their big comfy chairs. They had a good excuse, though — they were on other planets.

That's probably a good rule for the City Council. If you are on another planet, you can call in your vote.

Otherwise, get your ballot down to City Hall.

Reach Brian Hicks at bhicks@postandcourier.com.

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