A proposed change to the rules for how many Petersburg borough assembly members need to be at a meeting in person ran into some resistance from assembly members Monday. The change would allow assembly members calling in to a meeting to vote and make up the minimum needed for a meeting.
Proposed language in a new ordinance would allow assembly members attending a meeting by phone or internet to count toward a quorum. That’s currently four assembly members, the minimum number required to conduct a meeting and vote on an issue. The proposal would allow a minimum of two physically present in the borough assembly chambers for meetings. Four would still be needed to vote or pass anything but that could include those calling in.
Assembly member Eric Castro was interested in the change.
“I like the idea about being able to keep having a quorum, being able to be productive,” Castro said. “My only reservation is our AV (audio visual) system. I see over here now that we have newer ones. Before as you guys know it was just really tough to be able to hear and to fully comprehend everything that was going on at the meeting. I think that that was a limitation.”
Assembly members have called in by phone to past meetings. KFSK has been working with the borough to allow for internet call in to the borough assembly sound system. That was used for the first time at the chamber of commerce candidate forum in September.
One assembly meeting was cancelled this summer when not enough members showed up to conduct business.
Nancy Strand wanted the in-person quorum to remain at four. “I have trouble with that,” she said. “It’s not going to save any time. It also feels to me like it would increase the opportunities for abuse. I cannot support two members in person.”
Jeigh Stanton Gregor saw some good from the change but also thought that a four-person, in-person quorum should be maintained. “I think it’s important for the public trust, the idea of having someone to actually sit and talk with before a meeting, or after a meeting,” Stanton Gregor said. “Maybe I’m making an assumption here but I think it feels good to have four physical bodies here we can chat with or get face time with about an issue. I think it’s fair to the public. So I’m kinda with member Strand on that right I can’t vote for that as it is right now.”
The change would impact other boards and commissions in the borough. In borough’s charter, groups like the planning commission and hospital board operate under rules made for the assembly. Stanton Gregor was interested in possibly making the change for other elected board but not the assembly.
“OK I’m just thinking out loud here and I don’t mean to speak out of turn for the planning and zoning or the hospital board but I know they’ve had problems with maintaining a regular quorum,” he said. “In that setting I think it could help a lot. So maybe I would amend this to include planning and zoning and hospital board but not the assembly?”
That could require a charter change and a vote of the public. Borough clerk Debbie Thompson said she’d look into whether that would be needed. Stanton Gregor did not make that amendment. Instead the vote was 6-1 on the change as proposed. Nancy Strand the only vote against that change in its first reading. However several others said they were only voting to advance the measure to second reading and were like to vote against it later.
In other decisions, the assembly advanced the first reading of a $20 monthly increase to the stipend for most officers in the Petersburg Volunteer Fire Department. That will cost the borough an additional 3,120 dollars a year.