Councilwoman Rene Neff’s floating head seen at the last Langley City Council meeting is a reminder that elected officials must have a physical presence to cast a vote.
It was a somewhat impressive use of technology by South Whidbey standards. Neff was virtually attending the meeting all the way from Orcas Island via Skype, the computer program that allows users to see and hear each other in real time assuming it’s working.
This one-ups the Port of South Whidbey which allows its members to participate in meetings and vote electronically, but the port uses a telephone with the speaker turned on for all to hear. This is a very impressive use of technology available in the ’50s. Credit Neff at least for sending her disembodied head so the audience could not only hear her, but see her facial expressions. Port Commissioner Chris Jerome could have been sipping Canadian nectar for all we know.
Neff’s Skype appearance did not come off without a hitch. With her computerized face sitting in its accustomed spot next to Councilman Jim Sundberg, it looked like he could control what she was saying, perhaps by fiddling with the coaxial cable. Not true, but the thought could undermine the public confidence. Also, the audio cut in and out, making it hard for one side to hear the other.
On the positive side, Skype allowed the public to hear an honest, heartfelt comment from an elected official. “We haven’t even gotten to the executive session yet, this is taking forever,” Neff was heard to say. To whom, we don’t know. Perhaps a friend standing outside of viewing range. But everyone has thought the same thing and it was refreshing to hear the truth finally spoken, inadvertent as it may have been.
The fact is the port and city are using technology for the wrong purpose. The South Whidbey School District does it correctly. It streams its meetings electronically so residents can watch them from home. Ratings may improve if the show was titled, “Night of the Talking School Board Members,” but at least it’s there for this who want it.
Technology should bring the public in, not allow elected officials to participate from afar. They must be present to talk eye to eye with their peers and cast their votes live, in front of the people. Make it so, Scotty.