Winnetka, News

Winnetka trustees now allowed to attend more meetings virtually

Trustee Rob Apatoff was absent from the Winnetka Village Council meeting on Tuesday but a new policy — approved that evening — could have changed that.

Apatoff reportedly reached the limit (four) of meetings he could attend virtually during his term and, out of town, he could not participate remotely in Tuesday’s session. With him absent, his fellow trustees pushed through a new policy, which triples the number of council meetings a trustee can attend virtually during a term in office.

The council voted 4-1 in favor of six virtual meetings per year — or 12 over the course of a two-year trustee term — for each council member.

Prior to the vote, the council held a robust discussion on the topic, centering on the significance of meeting attendance, whether in person or via the internet.

Trustee Bob Dearborn said that it would be better for trustees, such as Apatoff on Tuesday, to attend virtually than not at all.

“It seems to me we should introduce a great deal more than 4 (per term) because people do have legitimate reasons (to attend virtually),” Trustee Bob Dearborn said. “… It seems incongruous to me that we have a fairly hefty regulation on the ability to participate remotely, but if you don’t want to attend the meeting, you just don’t attend. There’s no limitation or restriction on not attending.

“I want people to participate. I don’t think (a higher limit) is going to encourage people not to be here when they can be in person.”

In a pre-meeting message, Apatoff proposed increasing the limit to seven virtual meetings per year. During the course of the session, trustees volleyed different numbers back and forth, settling on six per year going up for vote.

Any significant increase was too high for Trustee Tina Dalman and Village President Chris Rintz, who did not vote on the measure.

Dalman said that virtual participation negatively impacts the public process, making it more difficult for trustees and residents to engage during meetings. She also expressed concern that trustees — such as those who have residences out of state, which includes a majority of the current council — may take advantage of the looser restrictions.

“Zoom … is not the same deliberative process and I don’t think it’s fair to residents,” she said. “It would make my life 1,000 times easier to increase the number, but I think it could be abused.”

Dalman also pointed out that during the town’s caucus process — in which the Winnetka Caucus vets and recommends potential candidates — trustees are asked about their availability for council meetings.

With three council meetings a month (two regular meetings and a Committee of the Whole session), trustees are asked to attend 36 meetings a year. Dalman pointed out that with a limit of six, a trustee could remotely participate in regular meetings during the three primary winter months (January, February and March).

Rintz called the suggested new limit high and said he would never lead a meeting as a virtual participant.

“It’s never going to happen, because A. I don’t think it’s possible, and B. it’s a horrible disservice to the community to try to do that for whatever selfish reasons I might have,” he said. “… If you can’t make a commitment to be here in this room, then I think maybe you made a mistake accepting the nomination and the position.”

Dearborn, as well as Trustees Kirk Albinson and Kim Handler, countered that times have changed and technology offers new remote possibilities. Albinson, who often travels for work, said the change is a benefit to him, and Handler said the flexibility could attract more individuals to consider council positions — a goal of the caucus.

And Dearborn believes trustees will not often reach the limit.

“My guess is you’re going to find it’s very infrequently used,” he said.

Dearborn, Albinson, Handler and Bridget Orsic voted in favor of the measure, and Dalman opposed.

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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