City commission adopts phone attendance provision

Kevin Wilson

The Clovis City Commission, anticipating a costly failure to make quorum at its Thursday meeting, adopted a provision allowing commissioners to join meetings by telephone.

After debate on the language of the expansion to the open meetings act, the commission approved the resolution in a 7-0 vote.

The commission has a regular meeting Thursday, but four members and Mayor Gayla Brumfield have scheduling conflicts. To pass agenda items, the commission needs a quorum of five members, and in some cases a supermajority of six commissioners.

City Attorney David Richards said normally the commission could reschedule the meeting, but an ordinance on parks and recreation bond issuance for $3.6 million has been advertised for Thursday. Rescheduling the ordinance, commissioners said, could cost the city due to changing bond interest rates.

Resolution 2611-2011 allows commission members to “appear and participate in public meetings of the Clovis City Commission by telephone or other similar communications equipment when it is otherwise difficult or impossible for the member to attend in person,” provided requirements of the state open meetings act are fulfilled.

Early in the meeting, Commissioner Randy Crowder asked to add “(and) it is necessary to create a quorum,” to eliminate the chance for broad interpretation of what a difficult circumstance is.

Richards said the amendment would not address Thursday’s meeting because the bond issue requires a supermajority.

Commissioner Fred Van Soelen objected to the change, because he felt it was too restrictive. There could be times, he argued, when a member was on city business out of town. With the amendment in place, that commissioner would have no chance to participate in the meeting if a quorum already existed.

“I think you should show up to vote in person, if at all possible,” Van Soelen said. “But I think this complies with the law.”

Rube Render of Clovis said he didn’t think the change was necessary.

“Once every 11 years, you’re going to have this problem,” Render said. “You don’t need a resolution.”

Mario Martinez of Clovis told commissioners if they wanted to vote and couldn’t make a meeting, they should find a way they could simply pass a message to city staff.

Crowder asked Richards what the state’s definition was regarding difficult circumstances. Richards said it wasn’t the letter of the law, but commentary with the law indicates the burden must be significant, and not a matter of the commissioner simply wanting to stay home. Crowder said he was comfortable with Richards’ explanation and dropped his amendment.

Commissioner Bobby Sandoval said the teleconference option has been available at the Curry County Commission and it’s never been abused. Tim Ashley, a former county commissioner in the audience, echoed Sandoval’s sentiments but warned the tool was impractical in his experience.

“There are a lot of dynamics in the room you don’t have privy to on the telephone,” Ashley said.