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Closer to the Dark Side Carlos R. Davalos | Sat, Mar 30 2013 12:00 PM

Fortunately for galactic freedom fighters everywhere, Chula Vista Councilwoman Mary Salas was not a member of the Rebel Alliance executive team.

Given that she doesn’t want council members participating in council meetings via video conferencing, it’s not hard  imagining Salas would have been against Princess Leia sending a hologram message to rebels  worlds away.

“Mary, we’re being overrun, we need help! Get that R2 unit in here so I can send an urgent SOS to our elite jedi squad.”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Easy there, Princess. As a leader, you have a responsibility to handle your obligations in person.”


“No. No buts. You’re paid to be there.”

“But the—”

“In person, I said.”

While council members haven’t been using holograms to participate in public meetings, they have, on at least two occasions, used videoconferencing to cast votes or otherwise engage in public discourse.

In other words, the same technology that allows Marines in Afghanistan to communicate with their children in the U.S., or executives in New York to finalize multimillion-dollar deals with colleagues in California, has been employed by council members Pat Aguilar and Rudy Ramirez to attend to the public’s business from afar.

Salas and other critics of the practice say elected officials have been chosen to represent the people and should do so in person. Council members must be available to interact and participate in the give-and-take of public discourse, the argument goes.

The problem with that reasoning, however, is that Ramirez and Aguilar have been present for back and forth discussion and public voting, just not in the flesh. And while the video quality has been spotty and frustrating at times, their video presence is better than their actual absence.

But Salas wants the practice ended and has asked the city attorney to draft a policy prohibiting virtual governing.

Given that Mayor Cheryl Cox and Councilwoman Pamela Bensoussan haven’t used the technology and appear lukewarm toward its use, Salas will probably get those two to follow her lead and she’ll get her way.

But the council ought to consider ways of keeping democracy in line with the times. It should be exploring ways to use technology to make public discourse more accessible, be it by allowing council members to attend meetings via Skype, for example, or — given the inconvenience of afternoon council meetings — creating ways for the public to engage in public comment from their computers, cell phones or even recreation centers with a video link.

In issuing a blanket ban on the use of a particular technology the council will keep this city  stuck in the dark ages. The Dark Side if you will.


Should council members be allowed to participate in council meetings via teleconferencing? Vote here.

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