Peddle’s smartphone presence prompts call to draft policy
By Richard Leitner, News Staff
There were some hiccups, but Laura Peddle made history on Monday by becoming the first Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board trustee to participate in a meeting via her smartphone – from Hawaii.
While the east Mountain trustee’s colleagues initially voted 5-4 against allowing her to do so, they relented after being told the Education Act gave her the right to take part unless board policies addressed the issue, which they didn’t.
In the end, her role was more amusing than contentious, as Ward 5 trustee Todd White repeatedly held up his smartphone to allow chair Tim Simmons see how Peddle voted on a raft of routine motions, including ones to approve minutes of previous meetings.
A potential showdown over a controversial Feb. 11 decision to spend nearly $19 million to renovate two Westdale schools – opposed by Peddle, who is on vacation – never materialized.
Afterwards, Simmons said the board’s governance committee will work quickly to ensure rules are in place for future participation via videoconferencing.
He said although he could see how Peddle voted, he and other trustees had difficulty hearing her because she couldn’t be connected to city hall’s speaker system, only set up for out-of-country calls.
From the public gallery, Peddle could be faintly heard calling for a point of clarification after the initial vote to bar her participation, a plea that was ignored.
“We need to look at improving the equipment if this is something that’s going to happen from time to time, so that a trustee that is doing (videoconferencing) can contribute in a more effective manner,” Simmons said.
Not all trustees agreed with reversing course to let Peddle participate.
Wards 1&2 trustee Judith Bishop unsuccessfully challenged Simmons’ permissive ruling, arguing the board lacked guidelines on whether electronic participation met requirements for voting and quorum.
She said it was also unfair to west Mountain trustee Wes Hicks, who was away on vacation as well but not given the same opportunity.
“We’re doing it on the hoof, so to speak, and that always makes one very uncomfortable,” Bishop said. “I think that there’s a place for this, Mr. Chairman, but I think we need to have a format that we all understand.”
But Simmons said he’d been advised by education director John Malloy that without rules in place, the Education Act took precedence and allowed Peddle to take part.
“My main worry is that any decisions made here tonight will become null and void under the Education Act because we have not allowed the trustee to participate,” he said.
Trustees voted 7-2 to uphold Simmons’ ruling, with only Ward 4’s Ray Mulholland joining Bishop in opposition.