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Vote on Cromer expected next week

October 04, 2006|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - Whether a Hagerstown councilwoman may take part in council meetings from home as she recovers from surgery is expected to be decided next week.

Councilwoman Kelly S. Cromer is scheduled to have surgery Thursday to replace three herniated discs in her neck. She said doctors have told her she will need to be home for six to eight weeks.

City Attorney Mark Boyer said Tuesday that he'll draft a proposal the council can vote on next Tuesday. If the council approves it, Cromer may take part from home right away.

City council meetings are broadcast live on public-access TV. Cromer would watch meetings and participate through a speaker phone hookup.

Karen Giffin, the city's director of community affairs, said a trial run with Cromer went well.

The council was scheduled to get legal advice from Boyer in executive session Tuesday. However, the discussion was moved to the public session because Boyer offered his opinion in a Sept. 27 memo, and the mayor and council had read it.

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In his memo, Boyer said it's legal under Maryland law for council members to take part in meetings from a distance, but the city would have to amend its rules of procedure, which say members must be "present" to vote.

He suggested that the council, if it wants to accommodate Cromer, suspend its rules rather than permanently alter them.

Boyer suggested that the council establish a system for verifying the identity of an absent member and that an absent member not count as part of a quorum.

A public body must have a quorum - typically, a majority - to take action.

Assistant Attorney General William Varga said this week that Maryland's Open Meetings Act allows members of public bodies to participate from outside locations through audio or video hookups.

The public must be able to hear and see what goes on to the same degree that other members of the government body do, he said.

Cromer said the surgery Thursday will be to replace three herniated discs with three cadaver discs. She said she was told that without the surgery, she could lose the use of her right arm.

Councilwoman Alesia D. Parson-McBean recommended that the council set a policy for future occasions when a council member will be absent but wants to take part in a meeting from afar.

Boyer said the council's vote should be limited to Cromer's situation. He said there's not enough time to account for other situations by next week.

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