Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

Discussion: What is the Appropriate Use of Electronic Devices during Council Meetings?

Posted by auroracitizen on March 16, 2011

Another great suggested discussion topic from a reader.

I was glad to read in the paper last week that the use of electronic devices during council meetings is under review. The Blackberry activities and twittering that have been going on during meetings have been bugging the hell out of me. I think it is rude, inappropriate and disrespectful to others in the chamber but above all, to voters.

I have heard all the arguments about the “age of multitasking” and being able to pay attention to several activities at once without losing the thread of any. I say hogwash! If that were the case, why is there evidence to show that attention deficit disorders are on the rise or that young people nowadays can only focus on snippets of superficial information and miss most of “meat and details.” I also wonder why basic good manners have disappeared. There is nothing more irritating and demoralizing than having to share someone’s attention with cyberspace, especially during a pre-scheduled meeting.

I have 2 grown up children, both of whom work for large organizations in management positions. While they are Blackberry fiends and avid texters and twitterers, even they acknowledge that it is not appropriate during meetings where one’s 100% concentration and focus is required. If some young people who are relatively new to the workforce can recognize the importance of this concept I would expect older, more experienced people to do the same.

As a voter, I expect my elected officials to bring 100% of their attention to the table when dealing with the town’s business in order to make crucial decisions. I do not want texters and twitterers phasing in and out of the discussions. Nor do I want them communicating with others outside of the council chamber for advice or direction in what to say or how to vote. If I valued those opinions I would have voted for them in the last election. I expect current councillors to use their own noggins and draw their own conclusions and have the decency to carry their own responsibility and do the job they are paid to do. I would be most interested in hearing others’ opinions on this issue.

27 Responses to “Discussion: What is the Appropriate Use of Electronic Devices during Council Meetings?”

  1. veritas said

    There was a segment on Spark on CBC radio this afternoon about the so-called multi-tasking. Apparently it isn’t actually possible to pay close attention to 2 or more sources of information at once. In fact a researcher from Stanford has found that people who try to multi-task lose the ability to decipher which is important information and which is trivial and irrelevant and ultimately lose focus and actually miss what is important.
    Apparently, the brain of multi-taskers changes over time and the more that a person tries to multi-task, the worse they become at it so it is the exact opposite effect of practice making perfect.
    Good to know that research is supporting the general opinion on this post that texting etc has no place at the important forum known as council so please, cease and desist all those who are engaging in it…. Mr. Ballard.

    • Christopher Watts said

      That was a great segment, it reminds me of this quote from Marilyn vos Savant, Guiness Book of World Record holder for Highest IQ (Women):

      “Email, instant messaging and cell phones give us fabulous communication ability, but because we live and work in our own little worlds, that communication is totally disorganized.”

      But what does she know? Obviously Clr. Ballard is much smarter and entirely organized. It’s not like he has misheard phrases at meetings and made a big deal about nothing….oh right.

  2. Anonymous said

    Public meetings are just that – public.

    There’s the information, delegation, staff input portion. Everyone should get to hear what’s being weighed.

    Motion on the table – no more input, passing notes, whispering or electronic devices.

    If the Clerk needs to the tell the Mayor something, then everyone needs to hear it. That’s what the microphones are there for.

    • Christopher Watts said

      to Anonymous Coward March 24, 2011 at 10:20 pm

      I agree with you that public meetings are public.

      There is no place for passing electronic notes via smartphones, or hand scribbled ones like we’ve seen Clr. Gaertner bring to meetings.

      I think the least of anyone’s concerns should be the consultation the Town Clerk is giving to the mayor, the way its done in almost every municipality for the sake of expediency.

      I’m sure if you asked our Clerk as to the nature of his comments he would be forthcoming, you have no need to lecture him about the purpose of the microphone.

      Clrs however are a different matter entirely.

      I doubt you would have such an open and accountable response from those texting/tweeting/blogging from the council table, or those that bring written notes (and hand them over to the local paper as we have seen…?) as to who they are communicating with, and for what purpose.

      If you want to correct the behavior, its simple: call them on it.

      This behavior isn’t just disrespectful to the people at the table, but residents at large.

  3. fed up said

    Consider this scenerio:
    You are at parent teacher interviews tonight at Aurora High School to discuss your son’s difficulties that he is having in Grade 12 Physics–with university applications and acceptances looming. At the beginning of the interview the teacher places his cell phone on the desk in front of you. In the middle of the interview the cell phone vibrates and the teacher stops the interview to read the text message and then replies to it. You don’t know if it is personal or business, but you are livid–the only thing on your mind is the difficulties your son is having in Physics, not the cell phone text message. If this is UNACCEPTABLE in this instance then it is also UNNACEPTAABLE AT COUNCIL MEETINGS. I challenge Mayor Dawe to place a ban on all hand held devicies during council meetings so that council can get on with the business of running this town without distraction.

    • Fed Up…

      You proposed ban has the same problem that the Ontario Highway traffic act has about banning the use of cell phones while driving. The cell phone is but one of many distractions that take attention away from the task at hand. However, this is the distraction that grabs headlines. The rub, of course, is that you cannot ban all distractions, so how can ou “ban” this one. I think a stern reminder at the beginning of each council meeting should be a good start to let everyone know the practice is not acceptable.

      In your example, it is not accceptable for the teacher to read and reply to the text message, but as someone who was just at teacher interviews at GW Williams last night, cell phones are the least of our worries with teachers!


  4. Anonymous said

    If Clr. Ballard had any intention of making the royal wedding he’d be faced with the tough decision of leaving his smart phone and not so smart twitter feed behind:–no-tweeting-during-royal-i-do-s-please

  5. Kron Prinz Ferdinand said

    I understand the issues that people are having with communication devices, and I, too, see them as an inconvenience as much as an aid.

    However, to go back to my younger days in elementary school, when you were caught chewing gum in class, the teacher would always admonish you by saying “I hope you brought enough for everyone”, and then you’d be forced to fork it over.

    Why not do the same with those people using blackberries in council? Hit’em in the pocketbook and things change pdq!

  6. Peter McCulloch said

    Businesses have been dealing with this issue for years. Some “best practice” process benchmarking would provide many examples of how best to manage this problem.

    • Anonymous said

      This is Aurora where minor things like Blackberrys and social media get blown up into major controversies.

    • JOHN H SARGENT said

      This is not only a issue in Aurora as some point out..I hear Vaughan and New market are also discussing technology use during meeting…Councilors may not be driving a vehicle in meetings, but they are the fuel for the vehicle that is to drive this town, so whats the problem to want all their octane available during the meeting instead of communicating with other devices to where ever, meeting are live and in person

    • fed up said

      bottom line–it is simply bad manners and disrespectful to ignore (not pay attention to) someone who is speaking. I don’t care whether you are on your phone, your blackberry, your Iphone, your Ipad, reading a report that you should already read at home, reading the newspaper, a magazine, or whatever. Nobody on this blog or in this town would appreciate in the middle of a conversation with someone to have that person simply turn away and stare at the moon and ignore you.

    • KA-NON said

      It will be interesting to see if behaviour changes at council and g.c. meetings following this thread.

  7. Anonymous said

    lets not turn this into a nanny state. we live in a democratic country. when politicians dont do things you dont like you vote against them. period end of story. how is checking a blackberrry any different than scanning ahead in their reports to read something thats not being talked about…or even reading the report at hand which everyone does…how do you know they’re not checking an email or sending an email related to the matter at hand. theyre adults and in theory smart enough to set priorities…theyre not children…seriously people…

    i think its rude too…but context is important.

    • Veritas said

      It’s rude, disrespectful and inappropriate, period. Speaking of context, it also has no place in meetings.

  8. Anonymous said

    So Ballard are you listening? We’ll be watching…

  9. Jytte K Gillies said

    It has all been said..and I agree.. Turn the phone off.

  10. This is just up there with common sense. Any meeting, whether it is a council meeting, a meeting at work or any other; it is just common sense and common courtesy to others to turn it off. Maybe they should have a big basket at the door that everyone drops their phone into!

    I am not going to get into placing blame against one member or council or another like others prefer to do, it should be a policy for everyone at that table – elected and staff.

    As far as the “emergency” situation, it was not that long ago that PDA’s and Smartphones did not exist. The “emergency” situation was simply a call to the front desk. I am amazed how many people feel that they so important that they need to be attached to their Blackberry constantly.

    As mentioned earlier, you cannot legislate common sense and you certainly cannot force them to pay attention to what is going on. You can however, attempt to reduce the number of outside influences that could create an attention defecit.


    • JOHN H SARGENT said

      R T B I also agree with you and Debra Kelly editor in chief of the ERA Banner solidify s it even better…in our fast paced,stressful world in which civility and social skills seem to be under attack, lets not allow this technology to further chip away at the common courtesies we still enjoy ..This is not a rant about technology ,but how it is being used

  11. Anonymous said

    If you were at a funeral or a wedding would you turn it off? If you are at a movie right there on the big screen you are asked to please shut your phones off. Even the vibration of the phones is loud, everyone still hears it. Do us all a favor and give us some courtesy. TURN YOUR PHONE OFF. You are being paid to attend this meeting, NOT the one on the phone. Your message will still be there when the meeting is over.

    • Winter's comin' said

      … one cannot be in two places at once. If on a blackberry/phone, you are not at the meeting, period. My suggestion, Mr. Auroran (RW), request the offending Councillor(s) after the meeting, their recollection of what was discussed. AND Mr. Mayor, move that the person is absent from the meeting!! … wc

  12. Winter's comin' said

    … in my reading in a psychology journal, there is no such thing as multitasking: the brain is only capable of processing one single complete thought at a time.
    JHS, CW, & GM are right on in their comments. Although, I believe you can regulate the use of the cell phones in council. It becomes
    the Mayor’s responsibility to establish the behavioural norm. Once the rule is set, if the use of electronic device is spotted, the offender needs
    to be culled out – a simple “are you attending this meeting Mr/Mrs Councillor? We’ll wait for your return.” Then silence – stop all conversation.
    Trust me, the consequence need only be applied once or twice. It won’t happen often. It works in corporate business meetings! It’s like the ding in the fender, GM talked about. The challenge is to you Mr. Mayor – try it. …wc

  13. Grace Marsh said

    Well said, and I can’t agree more.

    I am one of those people who’s B’berry rarely leaves my sight, and I thought I could multi-task as well, but unfortunately it took a fender bender to wake me up. Luckily damage was minor and no one was hurt, but it showed me that when something on the B’berry grabs my attention, other things around me lose that attention.

    There most certainly should be a rule that they are turned off and put away during meetings. If someone in the chambers feels there could be an emergency, they can leave the phone number and extension of the security guard at the front desk.

  14. Christopher Watts said

    As usual I agree with Mr. Sargent.

    You can’t legislate common sense, the debacle with the integrity commissioner taught us that, and at a heft price too.

    The issue does boil down to common courtesy.

    I encourage everyone that attends council to watch the offenders and call them out on it. As far as my count there is only one: Clr. Ballard.

    The excuses of “emergency” holds no water, and multi-tasking is such a joke.

    If Clr.s are not willing to provide undivided attention to a council meeting they should not bother attending. It is this sloppy half-assed approach to governance that lends itself to one hearing words out of context and then getting outraged over nothing.

    Put down the smart phone, or be comfortable being labeled a dummy.
    Clr. Ballard seems to have made his choice.

  15. JOHN H SARGENT said

    I say while in chambers in a meeting put them all away,,Would you like your doctor using his blackberry while checking your heart beat or listening to you talk…Should have nothing to do with who one is or is not communicating with…If a emergency arises i am sure one would be notified,other than that all other stuff can and should wait period…excuses of i can multitask, citizen might be trying to reach me ,all crap lets have dignity and at least attempt to be in meeting (less clarification recalls would be needed.. this just one persons option , its hard enough to teach children right and wrong when using technology..some adults will think they already know whats best unless there’s a rule saying (STOP)

  16. Anonymous said

    Even if you did ban devices from council chambers there’s no guarantee councillors will pay attention. They could be doodling or daydreaming. You can’t legislate people to pay attention 100 per cent of the time.

    • JOHN H SARGENT said

      No you can not legislate people to pay attention or follow the law 100 percent of time ,is that not why there are fines and jails, look at numbers still using hand held phones,speeding or drinking while driving so maybe if there is a rule put in place re using their techs during a meeting they could be expelled from chambers??? This issue really boils down to common courtesy

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