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Aldermen to each other: Don’t phone it in

Teleconferencing saves time and money in the corporate world, but Evanston aldermen don’t think much of it in theirs.

The City Council tonight is scheduled to consider a resolution that would restrict the right of aldermen to call in votes at council sessions when they’re out of town on business or laid-up sick at home.

The council now has no rules addressing the issue, and aldermen have only appeared by teleconference at meetings a couple of times in the last several years.

At the Rules Committee last week Ald. Melissa Wynne, 3rd Ward, said, “I don’t think we should permit electronic attendance at meetings. It degrades the quality of the meetings because you can’t see someone’s reactions to comments over the phone.”

She said the council can always hold over an issue to the next council meeting two weeks later to give the absent alderman a chance to appear in person.

Council rules bar holding over an issue more than once, but Ald. Wynne said, “I can’t think of a single instance where something has needed to be held more than once.”

Ald. Ann Rainey, 8th Ward, said “I could have gone on a lot more vacations if I could have phoned it in. I don’t see any defense for this unless a person were in a body cast at one of our hospitals – mentally alert but physically unable to get here.”

But Ald. Edmund Moran, 6th Ward, said he feared he, as an attorney, might someday be tied up in a trial in a distant city and not be able to return for the meeting. “I would like for us to have the opportunity to cast a vote when we’re compelled to be someplace else.

The measure the aldermen are considering tonight would limit each alderman to one meeting appearance by teleconference per year and allow them only for serious illness, work-related absenses and family emergencies.

Aldermen sought clarification of the issue after Ald. Cheryl Wollin, 1st Ward, voted by teleconference on the Mather Lifeways development project earlier this year because she was representing Evanston at a conference for city officials in Washington, D.C.

Update 5/9/06: The council adopted this measure at Monday night’s meeting without further discussion.

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