Cohasset City Council Member Skypes Meetings, Raises Questions

By KBJR News 1

March 29, 2013 Updated Mar 29, 2013 at 7:19 PM CDT

Cohasset, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Advances in technology have changed life for many of us, but for the city of Cohasset, it has had a controversial effect on how city council members attend city council meetings.

Council member Dennis Blankensop has been on the city council for seven years and for about the past four, he's been spending January through April at his retirement home in Palm Springs, California. A long way from the council's meetings every other Tuesday night.

So Since January, Blankensop has been skyping in to meetings, projected on the TV above the council chambers.

"We have to come forward and step up to the technology that is there for us to use," said Blankensop of his method of attending the meetings.

"Anybody that wants to come and talk to him can. [If] they want to interact with him they can," said Cohasset Mayor Greg Hagy.

But for some, the councilor's virtual method of attending the meeting isn't the same as being there in person.

Blankensop says a community member questioned the method.

Media attorney Mark Anfinson says that although using Skype is an interesting idea, it doesn't give constituents the same access to their elected council member as if they were there in person.

"[It has to be considered] whether or not there's a value in having elected officials required to be in physically close proximity to their constituents," said Anfinson.

The city asked for state approval before allowing Blankensop to vote via Skype. The state gave their opinion that the city is within legal boundaries when allowing a council member to attend virtually.

Blankensop says his physical location hasn't affected his city council duties.

"I'm accessible 24–7. I do talk to the city on a daily basis and I'm in constant contact with everybody," he said.

Blankensop voted via Skype for the first time during this past Tuesday's meeting.

Written for the web by Jennifer Austin.