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Video meeting participation sparks debate at Chesterfield

What seemed likely to be a minor issue at the Chesterfield City Council’s Sept. 5 meeting instead turned into a heated debate and a motion requiring Mayor Bob Nation to cast a tie-breaking vote.

The resulting 5-4 decision was against a proposal by Councilmember Tom DeCampi [Ward 4] to establish rules enabling councilmembers to use a video hook-up to participate in and vote during meetings they could not attend in person.

State law now permits public bodies to use the practice and some in the west St. Louis County area have instituted it. However, when the council’s Finance and Administration Committee earlier considered the issue, a proposal to implement such a policy in Chesterfield did not receive the majority vote needed to recommend it to the full council.

Absent councilmembers can and have listened to meeting proceedings via a phone hook-up but there is no policy enabling them to vote.

That decision about having no immediate recommendation is what Councilmember Barbara McGuinness [Ward 1], who chairs the finance committee, reported its decision at the Sept. 5 council meeting. Residents expect councilmembers to participate and vote in person, she said, adding that she isn’t sure involvement by video is a good idea. Councilmember Barry Flachsbart [Ward 1] agreed.

But DeCampi argued that since state law permits video participation, the city should establish a policy permitting the practice and thereby enable councilmembers who can’t attend in person to be involved.

Councilmember Ben Keathley [Ward 2] said the absence of councilmembers in the past when potentially controversial items were on the agenda has created questions about postponing votes, the propriety of doing so and problems with gaining a required majority. State law permits video participation so why not avoid the possible problems and implement the practice? he asked.

As DeCampi again emphasized the points he had made earlier, Nation declared he was out of order. DeCampi interrupted the mayor to disagree.

As the volume of the comments rose and interruptions prevailed, DeCampi raised a point of order about having the floor, the mayor repeated that DeCampi was out of order and McGuinness joined the fray, arguing that DeCampi wasn’t entitled to keep the floor forever. More than once, all three were talking simultaneously.

Ultimately, Nation called for a vote on the motion. DeCampi, Keathley and councilmembers Mary Ann Mastorakos [Ward 2] and Michelle Ohley [Ward 4] voted for the measure while McGuinness,  Flachsbart, and councilmembers Dan Hurt and Michael Moore, both of Ward 3, opposed it, setting the stage for Nation’s deciding vote.

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