Councilman gives up long-distance seat

Bergeron now works as a construction manager in Central Asia

Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2009

KETCHIKAN - A Ketchikan city councilman has given up his quest to keep his seat despite working out of town. Way, way, out of town.

Councilman Sam Bergeron in April took a job as a site construction manager in Kazakhstan in central Asia.

Under an ordinance passed in November, which allows members to participate in meetings by phone under certain conditions, Bergeron "attended" meetings - or tried to - through an Internet-based telephone service that included a video hookup. Sound quality at times was poor, the video was blurry and there was a time lag between responses.

The ordinance says members can participate by phone if they're ill or injured of if they have an employment-related commitment.

However, the law says council members may not use teleconferencing as a regular form of participating. It also says participation by teleconference does not count toward attendance, and the council can boot out a member who misses four consecutive meetings.

Bergeron's fellow council members had expressed misgivings about the arrangement. A discussion of the teleconferencing ordinance was scheduled for Thursday.

Councilman K.J. Harris said Bergeron's absence from the community was an issue.

"My thoughts: You need to be in town to be a council guy," Harris said. "You need to be in town to do your job."

Councilman Chuck Freeman said he had a problem with Bergeron's extended use of teleconferencing.

"Communication is as much about body language and facial expressions as it is about verbal," he said.

The matter became moot Sunday. In an e-mail, Bergeron announced his resignation. His assignment, he said, was taking him from a metropolitan area with good high-speed Internet service to a remote part of Kazakhstan.

"I said before I left that if it became impractical for me to continue to participate, I would resign," he wrote. "The circumstance has arisen that makes it impossible for me to continue."

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