IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Virtual Council Meetings Hinge on Reliable Technology

City leaders in Lafayette, Colo., will pilot remote access to council meetings over the coming months.

(TNS) — Whether Lafayette City Council members will be allowed to attend meetings and cast votes remotely may hinge on the common buffering and connection pitfalls that plague a typical Facetime call.

A council member who is unable to attend a future meeting or vote in person will be able to do so virtually — via some form of online video-messenger application — over the coming months on a trial basis.

The next council member who is out of town during a scheduled meeting will be tasked as the "guinea pig" for testing out remote access, officials decided Tuesday evening.

If the trial run is successful, and the procedure ultimately approved, Lafayette would be the first municipality in Boulder County to allow elected leaders to sit in on meetings, and cast votes, without being physically present.

The idea was first floated by the City Council in 2011 and then again in 2013 (it failed to pass under a two-thirds "super majority" at the time) and has reappeared in various forms in the years since; a short-lived test run in early 2016 of the platform failed to materialize into any policy.

"We never really ran a full experiment — and the full experiment means the whole meeting someone is (attending remotely)," City Administrator Gary Klaphake said Tuesday.

The council member who is absent would have his or her face projected on the council chamber's west wall, officials said.

"Let's do one good experiment," Klaphake urged council members. "Then let's either vote it up or down."

For a council member to qualify for remote access, according to a staff report for an ill-fated iteration of the feature rolled out in 2013, he or she must be unable to physically attend a meeting because of an "emergency, illness, vacations scheduled well in advance of a meeting, last-minute familial obligations, unavoidable work obligations, or obligations or travel related to city business."

Among some of the other stipulations for remote attendance: council members seeking to attend meetings remotely must obtain permission from the mayor 24 hours in advance, they may only vote on a matter if they have heard the complete testimony and public comment, and the council is allowed to disconnect from a council member attending remotely if the connection begins to interrupt or delay the meeting.

It's unclear if some of this language from the past ordinance will be recycled in a revamped policy, or rewritten all together.

Any hiccups with the system (such as extensive buffering, random alerts, loss of connection or other glitches inherent to online streaming) could spell disaster for the platform moving forward; some on Lafayette's City Council have already voiced their opposition to allowing remote access, and technical delays have stymied previous test runs.

"When this was originally discussed it was pretty narrowly defined," Councilwoman Alexandra Lynch, who last year voiced a similar skepticism of remote attendance, said Tuesday.

She added that when the conversation first came up, the ordinance stipulated that council members would only be able to attend remotely if they were sick or had a family emergency.

"This is local government, this is showing up," she added. "I will not be in favor of this, certainly not as it's written."

Since a concrete demonstration will have to wait until a council member is absent next, it's unclear when a test of the remote access platform will be.

©2017 the Daily Camera (Boulder, Colo.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.