Inverell Shire Council has voted against allowing councillors to dial-in to meetings through Zoom if they find themselves unable to attend.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Local Government Minister allowed councillors to attend meetings electronically, providing exemptions to the in-person attendance rule.
That has now expired, and council had to decide how to progress going forward: to go back to the way things were - where if a councillor couldn't make it, that was it - or change the procedure to allow remote attendance in specific circumstances.
The motion at the ordinary meeting on Wednesday included five reasons why a councilor may be allowed to join remotely, including sickness, natural disasters, disability, away for council business and for carer responsibilities.
Councillor Dight argued for allowing the exemptions in those cases.
She herself was unable to physically attend a meeting because of the floods in March, and told the council she had just left her injured son in Sydney to attend this meeting - specifically for this debate.
"There are also a number of councillors who are absent today, with something in their personal life meaning they cannot attend this meeting because they can't attend via audio visual link," she added.
"They should be allowed to contribute if they can add to the debate via Zoom ... life happens. We are councillors who are trying to do the best we can, and we should be part of the debate when that happens."
Councillors Neil McCosker and Stewart Berryman agreed, however said the seven days notice required should be changed, with emergency situations able to arise within days or hours.
Cr McCosker said he'd been using Zoom for meetings, his daughter was conducting court cases over audio-visual link, so he'd like to see council adopt the "same level of latitude".
But Mayor Paul Harmon outlined his concerns that the rules may be "taken advantage of" by some to not attend meetings at all, forsaking their commitment to "engage with the public".
While I praise technology, this gives that bit of a foot in the door for someone to exploit that.- Paul Harmon
"I understand the circumstances, I understand there are times where you cannot make every single meeting ... my real concern is that this could be used as a way of not actually engaging with fellow councillors face-to-face, not engaging with staff and not engaging with the public," he said.
"While I praise technology, this gives that bit of a foot in the door for someone to exploit that."
Cr Anthony Michael, while initially moving to reduce the circumstances to just sickness and natural disasters, successfully moved to return to normal council procedures, thereby eliminating the debate entirely.
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