by Deron Johnston
I’m never far away from my phone, it’s beside me 24 hours a day. I use it for work, pleasure and it allows people to contact me quickly, which can be important for work and family. Some people think that I spend too much time on it and they’re probably right. I find it very difficult to put it away at times. But, when it’s time for a board meeting, committee meeting or other type of meeting that I’m officially at the table for, my phone gets put away. I find it disrespectful that someone would pull out their phone and become distracted when they should be listening and contributing to the meeting.
This past Monday night, May 1, North Grenville Council hosted the Committee of the Whole (CoW) meeting in Oxford Mills at Maplewood Hall. It was a typical CoW meeting with several items to vote on, and a public meeting within the meeting itself. At one point, during one of the votes, Deputy Mayor Tobin was distracted by her phone and appeared to miss raising her hand to vote (or wasn’t voting ‘in favour’ of a fairly routine item). The chair of that portion of the meeting didn’t see that the Deputy Mayor Tobin hadn’t voted, but the vote passed anyway.
Being distracted by a phone is a regular occurrence at the council table for Deputy Mayor Tobin. She doesn’t normally miss votes, but to say that she’s not focussed on council business for the whole meeting would be an accurate statement. Each member of council has an iPad that they can use at meetings in order to: review the agenda, review reports, look up information or even take notes. Use of these devices during a meeting is both useful and reasonable. Using your phone in addition to the iPad is unnecessary because everything that you need for the meeting is on the iPad (the only obvious thing that you would need a phone for is texting, which can’t be done on these iPads). In other words, if you’re using your phone, it’s not for Council business.
Other members of Council are guilty of occasionally using their phones as well. Councillor Bertram said recently that he’s not familiar with how to use the iPad and that he occasionally pulls out his phone to look up an email. If that’s the case, Councillor Bertram should learn how to use the iPad if he doesn’t know how. I’m sure that his granddaughter would be happy to show him. By far, the worst offender remains the Deputy Mayor, and it has been going on for quite some time.
Senior management staff are also guilty of using their phones during meetings. It doesn’t bother me as much in their case, because they often are doing presentations and making reports to Council, but also may receive messages from off site or after hours staff. They could probably use them less, but I do understand why they may at least need quick access to them.
You have to wonder about how seriously someone is taking their role as a member of Council if they feel that a text message is more important than representing the interests of the residents of North Grenville. Frankly, using your phone during a Council meeting smacks of self-importance and selfishness. You’re saying to everyone that what you’re doing is more important than the business of Council. If you can’t pay attention for two hours out of your week, I think that it says a lot about how much you respect the people that you represent and about your fitness to serve those people.
Is it time for a resolution of “no phones at the council table” or should the responsibility lie with those chairing the meetings to be more aware of what’s happening at the table and be ready to challenge those who are distracted and not giving the residents of North Grenville their full attention? Either way, it’s time to break the habit.