The first clue something unusual was up was the head shot of Council member Kelly Boyd taped to the back of a chair in City Hall’s Council Chambers, providing a low-tech visual to accompany the voice that would eventually chirp out of a speaker phone at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
Boyd, who recently spent three weeks at Duarte’s City of Hope hospital to receive a stem cell transplant as he battles cancer, was quarantined to a City Hall conference room this week. He had not expected to attend the meeting at all, but was released early to recover at home, he said on the speakerphone.
But warned to avoid crowds, he elected to join the meeting via teleconference rather than miss it.
Boyd participated via speakerphone while watching a live, slightly delayed video feed of the proceedings. Even though he was just a few hundred feet from the formal dais, City Clerk Lisette Chel said special regulations apply to teleconferenced meetings. As solemnly as possible, Chel asked those present whether anyone doubted that the person participating was Boyd. No one questioned the authenticity of the disembodied voice.
Chel also noted that all votes taken during the teleconference meeting must be done by roll call. Simple enough, yet old habits proved hard to shift. One would make a motion, another would second, and then Mayor Elizabeth Pearson would begin to say, “All in favor…” before remembering instead to ask each member to cast their votes individually in a roll call.
When the time came for reports from council members Pearson did remember to address the speakerphone and ask Boyd for his comments. “It’s just nice to be back,” said Boyd, who said he’d had his transplant on Dec. 17 and got released last week. “I’ve got 45 days to recover here at home and then everything should be great,” he said.
The system worked well, with Boyd responding to questions, seconding motions and voting as usual, but did offer some moments of comic relief.
After a complex motion on an agenda item, for example, Pearson asked, “Is that okay? Is everybody on board with that?” With no response from the speakerphone, she called to Boyd, her voice ascending in volume. “Kelly…. Kelly?”
Finally, Boyd’s disembodied voice responded. “I hear you, I hear you!” And Pearson replied jovially: “Are you on board with that? Wake up!”
The advantage of the mute button became clear at one point when the testimony of a staff member was nearly drowned out by incessant crackling coming from the speakerphone. After politely ignoring the audible distraction, Pearson finally appealed to Boyd. “Hey, Kelly,” she said. “Do you want to put your phone on mute? You’re opening up all these candy wrappers and we can hear every little sound… ”
Boyd gamely acquiesced.
The speakerphone proved it had a secondary use as well. After a recess, Pearson called for comment from Public Works Director Steve May, who was unexpectedly absent. “Steve’s on his way. He’s been back here visiting me,” said Boyd, as the room erupted in laughter.