By Keith Regan, Contributing Writer
Westborough–Reversing a previous position, the Board of Selectmen July 22 voted to adopt a policy governing remote participation in meetings, allowing board and committee members to take part in meetings by conference call in limited circumstances.
Some board members said they remained uneasy about the arrangement, but acknowledged it was necessary to help keep volunteers who are forced to be away from town frequently from dropping off town boards. There are currently 21 vacancies on various boards and committee, Selectmen Chair George Barrette noted.
“Honestly, I hate the idea, but I think its 2014 and we have to address this issue,” Barrette said.
The board approved a two-page policy drafted by Town Counsel Gregory Franks. The policy allows a board member to participate remotely no more than three times per fiscal year and only for specific reasons. It also requires that a quorum still be physically present in order for the meeting to take place.
“I don’t want to see it taken advantage of,” said Selectman Ian Johnson. “Nothing replaces that face to face interaction. But it may help us fill some of our vacancies.”
Selectman Tim Dodd said he has long been in support of the approach, but suggested the practice be reviewed after six months to evaluate how it is working. He also added that boards and committees should be given ample guidance on how to implement the policy.
Several area towns already have remote participation policies on the books. Johnson noted that neighboring Grafton recently adopted the approach. Other communities have been on board for a while: the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen adopted remote participation in January of 2013.
“I used to be 100 percent against it, but I’ve come around,” said Selectman Denny Drewry.
Selectmen plan other discussions about the persistent committee vacancy backlog, including whether to reduce the overall number of committees, whether to shift some appointment duties to Town Manager Jim Malloy and the possible formation of a citizens leadership academy to help develop untapped talent in the community.