Hastings, Mich. — A controversy is brewing in Barry County over whether a paid county commissioner should be able to Skype into West Michigan meetings from Florida rather than being there in person over the next few months.
Commissioner Jim DeYoung wants the county to change the by-laws in order to allow him the freedom to attend electronically.
Deyoung said he was hoping to use programs like Skype while he’s spending a few months in the Sunshine State to keep up with the issues in Barry County.
“As I am going to be gone for a few weeks in the next couple of months, I want to take more active participation in the meetings while I was gone,” said DeYoung. “There are other departments within the county that Skype.”
There are also other reported instances in which Michigan’s public officials have used Skype for commission meetings. But, in those cases we found it was requested for reasons such as illness or in one case, a conflict with a college course.
Some of those on the commission aren’t happy about the request.
“Personally, I`m opposed to it,” said Craig Stolsonburg, Chair of the Barry County Board of Commissioners. “I said so in the meeting. I think he has an obligation to serve the citizens, the voters, in office.”
Stolsonburg feels that an empty council seat is not the way to do it.
He feels DeYoung, who makes a salary of $9,500 per year, with upwards of $10,000 in benefits, should serve those citizens by physically being present in the meetings.
“It’s being present completely. To me being a commissioner is more than just being, attending a meeting once a week. It’s visiting with people in the coffee shops. It’s visiting with the court clerk and you know, judges, and employees in the buildings….to get their ideas what’s going on.”
DeYoung did say he could have left town without saying a word.
“I could have just missed the meetings. I`m sure I could have done that easily enough without anybody taking too much note,” said DeYoung. “I thought this would be the right thing to do because we`re all gone at some time or another including Mr. Stolsonburg who was just absent at our last meeting.”
However, Stolsonburg is standing by his opinion.
“Even when he ran for office, knowing he was going to be gone for three months out of the year, I feel that he was not honest to the people who voted him in.”
“I think it`s not only a disservice to the citizens, but to the board, to the rest of the commissioners, to the employees, who are depending on his leadership to be there.”
Commissioners will be taking up the issue at their meeting Tuesday.