It took a while and some reworking of a letter to the state General Assembly, but Dover City Council May 13 supported a move that would allow military personnel deployed overseas to attend meetings via video conferencing.
The issue was a letter to the Delaware legislature expressing council's support of a bill to amend the state Freedom of Information Act. Currently the FOIA does not allow public bodies whose members are elected by the public to have members take part in virtual meetings.
The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Charles "Trey" Paradee, (D-Dover), removes that restriction for a "member of a city, town or municipal council who is serving in the military or armed forces overseas."
While the proposed law would apply to any such body in Delaware, it was written primarily to address the case of Dover City Councilman David L. Anderson, who is serving in Afghanistan until April 2014.
While not objecting to the intent of the proposal, some council members felt the support letter was being rushed through without their having a chance to consider all aspects of the bill. Others felt the legislation stood on its own merits and did not limit municipal governments in deciding whether or not to allow their members to take part in the virtual meetings.
Paradee, who was allowed to discuss the bill under a suspension of council rules, said the city should get behind the idea.
"I'd like to see the city of Dover take the first step," he said. "I'd like to see the city support this legislation."
Council members then took the unusual step of calling a short recess to allow Councilmen Adam Perza and Sean Lynn to reword the support letter.
After reconvening, council members voted unanimously to approve a revision.
The new letter encourages the legislature to support the proposal, but adds that the General Assembly should "examine the advantages and disadvantages of such avenues of service" by getting comments from members of the public, particularly those who are represented by men and women who have been called to active duty and deployed.
That representation is particularly important if a deployed elected official has difficulty staying in touch with his constituents because of the distances and circumstances involved, Perza said.
The letter also made it clear the intent was not to require participation, but that governments would defer to military commanders about whether mission requirements or security concerns would allow a deployed member to take part in a meeting.
In Dover's case, Perza expressed concern about the effect the 8.5-hour time difference would have not only on Anderson's ability to be prepared to take part in meetings but to carry out his military duties without putting himself or others in danger.
Page 2 of 2 - Dover council meetings take place Mondays at 7:30 p.m. EDT, which would be 4 a.m. Tuesday in Afghanistan.
"If you're up at  a.m. videoconferencing, you might not be on top of your game," Perza said. "You could be putting yourself or your colleagues at risk if you're not."