Chair says rules on phone participation need review
“Alex, can you hear me?”
“Alex, can you hear me?”
The Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board’s latest experiment on Monday with electronic participation at meetings sounded a bit like an unintentionally funny version of the Who’s Tommy Can You Hear Me? – albeit without the acoustic guitar.
Alex Johnstone, trustee for wards 11 and 12, had joined the meeting by phone fromCuba, where she was vacationing, but it became apparent she couldn’t hear the proceedings during a crucial vote on the location of a new lower-city high school.
She twice asked Flamborough trustee Karen Turkstra to repeat a motion to table a plan to build at the site of Parkview and King George schools, a request requiring a staff assistant to hold a cell phone near Turkstra’s mouth.
Johnstone then failed to respond to Ward 5 trustee Todd White when he asked if she could hear him – after chair Tim Simmons had to ask the same question twice before she acknowledged him.
That prompted White and others to object to her participation – a protest rendered moot when she ended the call and didn’t vote.
“I do hope that all trustees can participate in the debate and I certainly do not want a trustee to lose their ability to vote, but I do have great concern if a trustee is unable to hear my arguments,” White said.
“The point of this board room is for us to make arguments, debate and persuade our colleagues. If that is unable to happen, I feel it is greatly irresponsible for us to allow that trustee to participate.”
Afterwards, Simmons said he hopes the governance committee will clarify rules around electronic participation at meetings, allowed both by the Education Act and the board’s own policies.
East Mountain representative Laura Peddle became the first trustee to participate by phone in February – from Hawaii– but her colleagues often had difficulty hearing her.
Unlike on Monday, the votes back then weren’t contentious.
“Part of the problem was she was calling from Cuba and the infrastructure there is not like Hawaii,” Simmons said of Johnstone’s call. “There certainly are limitations for that (participation) depending on where you are in the world,” he said.
“We overestimated her ability to participate in the meeting. Certainly, with Trustee Peddle we bent over backward to try to accommodate her, and we tried to do the same for Trustee Johnstone, although we weren’t successful.”