Common Council loosens meeting rules

Mayor’s permission no longer needed to attend by phone or Skype

City officials Wednesday made it easier to phone in their attendance at Shawano Common Council meetings, changing a policy that prevented Alderman Bob Kurkiewicz from participating in several meetings last winter.

Kurkiewicz had been attending meetings from Florida by phone and later via Skype during the winter months for about 10 years, in spite of an 11-year-old ordinance that required the mayor’s approval and only in cases where the council member’s physical absence was due to unusual circumstances.

The city started enforcing that ordinance for the first time in February under Mayor Jeanne Cronce.

The change approved Wednesday requires only that a council member provide the mayor with notice that he or she will be appearing by phone or other electronic means. Permission from the mayor isn’t required.

The change was approved by a 5-0 vote, with Alderwoman Sandy Steinke absent.

“This is something that I brought forward,” Mayor Ed Whealon said. “It kind of brings this ordinance into the 21st century.”

The ordinance still prohibits participation by phone in closed session discussion and limits electronic attendance to one council member at a time.

The council also approved a change to a related ordinance that previously prohibited board or commission members from any phone or electronic attendance.

The members now will be able attend by phone or electronically, provided they give adequate notice to the mayor, but they will be restricted from doing that more than three times in a 12-month period.

Alderwoman Lisa Hoffman pressed for including that limitation so that the privilege would not be abused by board and commission members, who aren’t accountable to the voters.

“These aren’t elected members,” she said. “These are appointed members. So there’s no accountability, other than to the mayor. If a council member chose not to appear, their constituents can say, ‘OK, then we’re not voting for you.’ A board member doesn’t have that.”