Trustee Talk, Issue 7: Trustee Participation in Board Meetings via Interactive Teleconferencing (Part 2 of 2)
Note: This issue continues the examination of trustee participation in board meetings through technological means in the last issue of Trustee Talk.
What should my board know before permitting board meeting attendance via technological means?
Once you have established it is legally permissible for trustees to participate in board meetings through technological means, the board should consider these points to help decide if this is in the best interests of the board:
Effect On In Person Attendance
The wise board will encourage in person attendance at board meetings and benefit from the engagement with colleagues and the college community. However, interactive teleconferencing is a vehicle that is useful when it is necessary to accommodate trustees. Teleconferencing is not a substitute for in person attendance at board meetings. Nevertheless, it is an effective tool. Having some guidelines to encourage trustees to use teleconferencing only on an as needed basis is helpful. Each trustee should weigh which of these reasons provides a valid justification to join by video conference: (1) emergencies, (2) when urgent business appointments prevent attendance, or (3) having a summer home that takes a trustee away from the community, and specifically the location of the board meeting, for weeks and/or months.
Atmosphere of Meeting
Interactive teleconferencing also has the potential to alter the general atmosphere of a board meeting. While in person board meetings can build trust and relationships among trustees through traditional face to face communication, interactive teleconferencing may require exploring different approaches to achieve the same results. As in the informal gatherings that take place before or after the board meeting, it is important to establish camaraderie among trustees, the administration, and faculty. Additionally, it is important to take steps to minimize the impact on the procedures and flow of the meeting. Avoid distractions during the meeting caused by inconsistent video and audio quality or through background noise at the location of the teleconferencing trustee. The location from which the teleconferencing trustee participates can present challenges. Make every effort for the trustee to feel comfortable letting the general public into their home or other locations by technological means. This is important when public notice at the alternate site and accessibility by the public may be required.
It is a wise investment to have equipment and facilities necessary for interactive teleconferencing. Skype and other providers are readily available and offer an extremely affordable alternative.
Live Streaming Board Meetings
Another popular technology for viewing meetings is "live streaming," which allows community college constituencies in a large system or remote college geographic service area to observe board meetings through a live internet broadcast. The North Dakota State Board of Higher Education oversees community colleges spread across a wide geographic area, where hours of travel would be required for many citizens to attend state board meetings in person. The state board live streams its meetings online, so that the public and all community colleges within the system are kept informed of the activities of the board. Board Chair of the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education Kirsten Diederich shared while the state board supports live streaming of its face to face board meetings for public viewing, when it comes to trustee videoconferencing "We still prefer to have face to face communication when possible." Nevertheless, when trustee videoconferencing has taken place it has been a positive experience and has not changed the nature of board meetings. Chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District Joe May has also had a positive experience with live streaming meetings. Although Dr. May stated that "There's always a bit of a risk that someone will play to the camera," he noted that this has not been the case with the Dallas County Community College District.
Establishing Guidelines to Prevent Unintended Consequences
If the board determines participation through interactive teleconferencing is legally permissible and decides to allow trustees to participate in meetings through technological means, it should establish clear policies defining when interactive teleconferencing will be allowed and incorporate these policies into the board bylaws or procedures. The board should decide if participation through interactive teleconferencing will be permitted for regularly scheduled board meetings, emergency meetings, and executive committee meetings of the board. Acceptable reasons for allowing participation through technological means can include urgent out-of-town business meetings, family or personal emergencies, and ensuring a quorum to be able to carry out the important business of the board at the college. The question of how many members can participate by teleconferencing at the same time should be considered.
Executive Sessions & Confidentiality
The board needs to be clear as to what is acceptable for executive sessions, as the guidelines could be different from general meetings. It is also important for the board to be aware of the potential impact of confidential discussions on the well-being of the college. Protecting the interests of the college and students must always be of the utmost importance to the college.
Questions that should be answered: what is acceptable for executive sessions? What is the potential impact of broadcasting confidential discussions on the well-being of the college? How does the broadcasting of meetings change these considerations from non-broadcast, public meetings (the considerations should probably be the same in states with sunshine laws, but may vary otherwise).
**Cautionary Note: Don't Forget to Amend Your Bylaws or Procedures**
In creating a policy on participation in board meetings through interactive teleconferencing and live streaming, the board should formally amend its bylaws or procedures to explicitly define how trustees can participate in board meetings through technological means.
How Board Materials Would Be Supplied In a More Timely Fashion The board's policy on interactive teleconferencing and live streaming must ensure that trustees are fully engaged in the work of the board. One of the real benefits of teleconferencing technology is supplying board materials to the board in a more timely fashion, particularly when a web portal is set up for the board.
It is the board's responsibility to assess whether interactive teleconferencing technology will serve as an effective tool for full trustee participation at the college. This assessment will be ongoing, as the issue will continue to evolve as further means of technological communication are introduced and adopted. Technology has influenced almost every aspect of American life, and one thing we can be sure of is that the demand for interactive teleconferencing to facilitate the work of the board will continue to grow. We want to encourage readers to share experiences with interactive teleconferencing to inform board assessments of the technology.
Disclaimer: This newsletter is offered for general informational purposes only. It is not offered as and does not constitute legal advice.
Do YOU have a Question for us? Email your question to: Norma Goldstein