Skype good idea but not ready for action [UPDATED]Published 10:11am Wednesday, September 18, 2013 Updated 12:13pm Wednesday, September 18, 2013
In a split vote Monday, the Fergus Falls City Council decided against the use interactive television technology (such as Skype) to allow council members to attend meetings when other obligations force them to be out of town. While this new use of technology is a great idea, it’s probably a good thing the council voted it down for now.
Skype has been used effectively in the council chambers before but never by a council member at a city council meeting. Tim Rundquist, the council member who sparked the idea to attend meetings via Skype, used the same technology to attend the Ward Three candidate forum less than a year ago.
While it went well, setting everything up fell on his shoulders and any potential technical difficulties would only hurt him and his chances to win the council seat.
If the council opens up meetings to Skype, potential issues could be much more impactful on the entire council. Imagine a major vote on a hot button topic like the Regional Treatment Center only to hear, “Can you hear me? Can you hear me now?” Fears like this are understandable, and until it can be tested and shown to be smooth sailing, it’s not a good idea to OK Skype for use at council meetings.
Everybody wants to have the best city council members possible, and opening up meetings to interactive television communications from time to time might encourage more residents to run for council seats.
However, council members have a responsibility to attend meetings in person, and it is important that Skype be the exception and not the rule. It’s understandable that every council member can not attend every meeting, so it would be great if interactive video communications could be used if it becomes a question of not attending a meeting or attending via Skype.
It might be too early to go live with Skype in the council chambers, but it’s something we hope the city will further pursue. Perhaps Skype could be used and tested at committee meetings first.
The concept has a lot of potential to help the City Council, but it’s not quite ready for action.