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Members of the Wauwatosa Common Council could soon be allowed to vote on issues impacting the community without actually being at city hall.

A proposed ordinance would allow the elected officials to participate in common council or committee meetings using electronic means such as video or telephone conferencing if they were unable to attend the meeting in person.

The proposed ordinance would create a specific procedure for notifying the meeting chair and staff about an expected absence and for determining whether electronic attendance can be accommodated.

Additionally, the ordinance would give the meeting chair the discretion to determine whether the absent member would be counted toward a quorum — the minimum number of members required to make the proceedings of the meeting valid — or allowed to vote.

Many committee members said the proposed ordinance could be a useful tool to maintain business as usual in the event an elected official can't attend a meeting in person.

"I see it being a benefit," said Alderman Matt Stippich, one of the proponents of the ordinance. Stippich said he's often traveling for work and finds himself wanting to participate in city meetings remotely.

"It might provide some more flexibility."

However, Alderman Dennis McBride said he was "disturbed" by the line in the proposed ordinance that would allow the meeting chair to decide whether the official joining the meeting through electronic means is eligible to cast a vote.

"We need to spell it out, you either can or you can't vote," he said, later adding it should be a rarity that the procedure would ever need to be used.

Alderman Bobby Pantuso said it should be defined earlier rather than later on whether the electronically participating official can vote. Pantuso said committee members often show their "poker faces" early and can predict which way a vote will go. Leaving the power up to the chair to determine whether or not someone can vote could sway a decision one way or another, he said.

"I don't want to open the door for that possibility," he said.

Alderman Allison Byrne said the chair should have some discretion about whether the person can vote in case there are some "bugs" in technology.

"Someone's going to have to make that call and I think it should be the chair," she said.

The ordinance also specifically provides that other boards, committees and commissions in Wauwatosa can utilize the procedure if the appropriate technology is available, at the discretion of the chair of that meeting.

Other communities have implemented similar policies, including the town of Waukesha in 2013. However, the town later changed the ordinance, requiring supervisors to be physically present at meetings.

The city attorney's office will tweak the proposed ordinance under the guidance of the city's government affairs committee.

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