Town of Waukesha allows for supervisors to attend meetings through video conferencing

Published on: 6/18/2013

Mike Laska wanted to make his point.

When his turn came to vote on whether to ban supervisors from attending meetings through video conferencing methods at the June 13 Town of Waukesha Board meeting, his response was an emphatic "N-O."

His reaction wasn't a surprise given he was the main target of the near 30-minute discussion on board members utilizing Skype to attend meetings.

Laska attends meetings from his vacation home during the winter and early spring in Texas.

New Town Chairman John Marek had pledged to have the notion of a 'cyber supervisor' removed during his campaign earlier this year.

However, Marek was in the minority, as Laska had the backing of Supervisors Joe Banske and Larry Wolf and the board rejected a motion that would have required board members to be physically present during meetings.

Town supervisors have had the opportunity to attend meetings via Skype where a computer screen is set up at the front of the room so they can see and hear what is taking place at meetings.

A few of the board members have used the technology when they are not able to attend a meeting.

But the main objection has come against Laska.

"It's no secret I have strong opposition to this," Marek said. "Our (legislators) in Madison and Washington, D.C., wouldn't do this."

Marek and Supervisor Brian Fischer both had concerns about whether Laska knew what he voted on at the Jan. 24 meeting when the town redrew the water service map.

"It's simply impossible via a computer screen," Marek said.

Fischer added his concerns were if someone challenges a vote, saying Laska's vote wouldn't count because he isn't physically present.

"Who's to say somebody challenges the fact that you are not physically present and can't be counted as the quorum," Fischer said. "Somebody could challenge that and say it's a 2-2 vote.

"That puts the town in jeopardy, and we have a mess. Somebody says you weren't even there, you didn't see the map, and the Town of Waukesha is in a heck of a pickle."

Laska defended his position, saying he is just as informed as the other supervisors.

"In your comparison to senators in Washington, D.C., you're absolutely right; they wouldn't do a thing like this," Laska said. "They would just not show up. I show up. Right here on that little screen. I do.

"Throwing that Washington, D.C., stuff doesn't make sense to me. I am doing the job. I am at a different location; I could be in a different room, but I'm still doing the job."

Town Attorney Hector de la Mora said he doesn't know of a community that regularly uses video conference.

"However, on occasional basis some of the communities I represented, they have used telecommunications," de la Mora said, citing the Village of Elm Grove, which he also represents, using teleconferencing for its members to call into meetings.

However, de la Mora added, "the fact is the law always lags behind technology, and the use of video enhances participation in many, many areas of business. It not only makes sense but provides for a more-efficient process."

Laska said "this is leaps and bounds beyond teleconferencing. Technology has improved, and we improved with it. I'm very proud of my attendance, even though a portion of them are through Skype."

Fischer wasn't sold, as he said others aren't either.

"I have had many constituents raise this issue with me, and overwhelmingly they indicated they think this is an inappropriate type of thing to do," said Fischer, who added he did not call in or video conference when he was on vacation with his wife in Jamaica. "What if everybody decided to do this?

"Would we have Jamie (Salentine, the town clerk-treasurer) sit here with five monitors or whatever?"

Laska, however, said fewer than a half-dozen people have told him they have an issue with how he attends meetings.

And Laska added that he always receives all of the documents from Salentine well ahead of the meetings, so he is informed.

"It's an absolute great tool, and work does get done," Laska said. "I still perform my duties."