Imagine being elected to city council and never having to attend a meeting in person – you could stay home in the comfort of your easy chair and listen to the debate, offer comments as you like, vote if you felt like it and never have to look your constituents in the eyeball.
Sounds like a pretty good deal, doesn’t it?
And if Parkersburg City Council has its way, you could one day walk into a council meeting and not see a single councilperson there in the flesh. They might all be phoning it in.
Council this week approved a measure to allow council-members to participate in council meetings and even vote on issues, by telephone.
Supposedly, this can only be invoked by a council-member a maximum of two times per year unless the council-person is sick or injured.
This is all due to the ill health of long-time councilperson, Demo Dukas.
Mr. Dukas has been un-able to attend several recent council meetings. And with the approval of the city attorney, he has been able to listen in and even vote by phone.
I don’t have a problem with the short-term use of this avenue. Everyone gets sick or hurt on occasion and I applaud Mr. Dukas for trying his best to continue to serve the people who elected him.
But permitting him or any other councilperson to do this on anything other than in an extreme situation sets a bad precedent.
What constitutes and injury or an illness?
What proof will an absent council-person have to provide to prove that he or she was indeed sick or injured?
What can council do about a council-person who generally abuses this privilege and stops coming to council-meetings altogether?
None of these questions has been answered.
And it will be too late to invoke new rules after a council-person has already started abusing this privilege.
The voters have a right to be able to see their council-persons in action and perhaps even confront them at council meetings if they follow the proper procedures.
I wish Mr. Dukas a complete and swift recovery.
But I would also say this:
Absentee voting by voters is one thing.
Absentee voting by an office-holder is quite another.
That’s this week’s editorial.