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Video: City Councilors Spar Over Use of Computers, Phones During Meetings

“When God created man he didn’t afford him a computer or a texting machine.” - City Councilor Robert Penta.

A resolution to ban city councilors from using electronic devices during meetings drew heated debate Tuesday night before ultimately being defeated.

The council voted 4-3 to defeat the resolution, which was brought forth by councilors Robert Penta and Michael Marks, but not before Penta and fellow councilor Paul Camuso had an impassioned exchange.

In Medford, the use of smart phones and computers during meetings can be a distraction and are sometimes the source of questionable information, Penta said.

“This is an open forum, residents deserve our undivided attention," he said.

The resolution was submitted only days after Camuso took out his Apple MacBook during a council meeting on April 5.

Councilors should come to meetings prepared and not need to use computers for reference, Penta said.

“When God created man he didn’t afford him a computer or a texting machine,” Penta said.

The issue has come to the forefront in other legislative bodies -- including Connecticut and Texas, Penta said. In 2009, an Associated Press photographer captured a photo showing legislators playing solitaire on a government issued computers that caused a stir in Connecticut.

“This isn’t Bob Penta making this up,” Penta said.

Camuso said using a computer or phone to access the internet allows councilors to quickly pull up detailed and accurate information. Even if the resolution passed, he wouldn't follow it, he said.

"The people of this community deserve city councilors that are going to give them accurate, quick, responsive information," Camuso said.

In addition, using his laptop to take notes saves paper, he said.

"If you, Councilor Robert M. Penta, do not want to do your part to reduce your carbon footprint, continue to take the notes and have the 400, 500, 600, pieces of paper," Camuso said.

Penta responded, saying: "I'm not worried about my carbon footprint; maybe you should worry about yours -- Speak for yourself okay? But more importantly, I don't need a computer to have somebody tell me what to say or tell me what to do, I don't need to have somebody do that.

"I have the brain that God gave me. No one is going to computer me to tell me what to say or do, or advise me."

Marks said he co-signed on the resolution because every councilor deserves the undivided attention of their colleagues when they are speaking.

“It’s a matter of common courtesy, that council members refrain from using electronic devices," Marks said.

Councilor Frederick Dello Russo said he couldn't support the resolution, but was unsure of the role mobile devices and the internet should play in council meetings.

"I think it’s too soon," he said. "I think the jury’s out on these handheld devices."

Camuso, Dello Russo, Mark Arena and council President Robert Maiocco all voted against the resolution, while Marks, Penta and Breanna Lungo-Koehn voting in support of it.

JD April 13, 2011 at 09:50 AM
After watching the meeting last night, I will not be supporting Councilor Camuso in the next election. He held up many papers that seemed like it was for one week, and it ended up only two papers when questioned by Councilor Mark. Like he says....lets get the record strait.....don't let the door hit you and your computer on the way out.
Rose Fiore April 13, 2011 at 01:03 PM
I will not support Councilor Camuso. I watch the Council meeting every week & I think using his computer during the meetings is disrespectful to his fellow Councilors as well as the citizens who are speaking at the podium. Last night, a woman was at the podium speaking to the Council about the problems on Harvard St. She made a wonderful presentation & was obviously frustrated with the lack of help from the City. When Councilor Camuso asked her a question, it was something that she had already covered in her presentation. Last night wasn't the first time this has happened. I can't tell you how many times I've yelled at him on the TV saying "he/she didn't say that!!!!" I would love to see Councilor Marks run for Mayor.
David Adams April 13, 2011 at 02:29 PM
Different people have different learning styles and different ways to most effectively participate in communication. If Councilor Camuso is still paying attention, but is taking notes, or even receiving chat messages from those watching on TV, more power to him!
liam April 13, 2011 at 03:47 PM
It has nothing to do with "learning styles." If every councilor performed searches for information and communicated back and forth via texting or e-mail, meetings would be chaotic. The immediacy of a computer or phone in order to access information does not guarantee that the information is accurate, as Councilor Lungo-Koehn described at last night's meeting. When Councilor Lungo-Koehn asked Mr. Camuso where he obtained the inaccurate information regarding ticketing and towing, he refused to answer the question, citing the privacy of his source. That was a public meeting, and decisions and proclamations by the city council should not be based on input from anonymous sources during the course of a meeting.
MKW April 13, 2011 at 04:01 PM
The time for research and locating information via the internet should be done prior to the meeting! There isn't anyone on that Council that can search for answers and do research on a particular question while the meeting is taking place because it is impossible to focus on the job or meeting at hand and perform those functions. This isn't the first time Camuso has done this either. Nearly every meeting that he attends...when the camera pans by him.....you can pretty much bet that he will be reading his mobile device.. Either pay attention or move on and let someone who pays attention and cares about the meetings take your spot!! Ask yourselves this... When is the last time you went into a business meeting with colleagues and thought it was OK to answer your phone, text or open your computer?? In fact.. Office etiquette mandates that you shut your phone off, close your computers and give your undivided attention to the meeting at hand. Camuso works for the Sheriffs Department, he should and does know this... I'm withi Liam, Rose and JD... Time to move on Camuso...you lost my vote too....
MB April 13, 2011 at 04:07 PM
I watch every City Council meeting. Camuso does not appear to be paying attention to what the speakers are saying most of the time. It is obvious because he will make points that have already been made and speak to the point as if he thought of it himself. Last night he did ask the resident to repeat information she already had spoke about because he was probably on his electronic device. It does not appear that Camuso is using his electronic devices to take notes. The environmental spin was just that spin to detract from the issue at hand. Three members of this City Council work so hard every week to make changes that would improve the City, but because of the fact that four of the councilors have allegiance to the Mayor instead of the taxpayers they were elected to represent, things don't get done. So frustrating for me to see and embarrassing for the city of Medford.
MKW April 13, 2011 at 04:08 PM
Oh and one more thing....Camuso's Carbon Footprint statement is a joke...Ask any commercial printer. There is no need to feel guilty about printing e-mails or using paper product. Today there are 12 million more acres of forest in the U.S. than there were 20 years ago. Paper is renewable and recyclable!
John Moore April 13, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Not sure where MKW works, but at my company we use our computers during every meeting. That's where all our most current information is. That's how professionals conduct business in the 21st century. Most people can listen and type at the same time -- just as they can listen and use a pencil. If they can't, that's another issue entirely. Don't ban technology because you're scared of it.
Rose Fiore April 13, 2011 at 07:33 PM
John, it has nothing to do with being scared of the technology. It has to do with paying attention to the people who are speaking. It's obvious that Camuso can't research, type, & listen at the same time. He is constantly asking questions that have already been asked & answered. Also, there is a sign before you come in the Council chambers saying cellphone or electronic devices are not allowed. The citizens who pay the taxes aren't allowed to bring one in & use it for their research. Camuso or any other Councilor should abide by the same rules.
J Marr April 13, 2011 at 08:00 PM
After watching last night's city council meeting I must say that for the first time in my life I am embarrassed to live in the City of Medford. To watch Councilors Camuso & Dello Russo make a mockery of the Medford City Council as well as the citizens of Medford was insulting and disgraceful. For Camuso & Dello Russo to use their "electronic devices" while Councilor Penta was speaking was juvenile and petty. Then to further insult the citizens and make a bigger fool of himself Councilor Dello Russo makes sophmoric statements like "Does the sign outside the council chamber say anything about the vibrate option for phones?" and "Motion to take the sign down." What a disgrace. Councilor Dello Russo made it very clear that he does not take his position seriously and that he does not take the citizens of Medford seriously. As for Councilor Camuso it was just another night for him to parrot what others already said and for him to pontificate on issues that he clearly has no grasp of. Camuso's environmental posturing was just a shameless and pathetic attempt to deflect the spotlight from him, as well as a lame attempt to win a few votes. I urge Councilors Camuso & Dello Russo to step aside for someone who will treat the position of Medford City Councilor as well as the citizens of Medford with the professionalism, seriousness, and respect that they deserve. Camuso & Dello Russo don't have to worry about losing my vote. They never had it. Medford deserves better.
Peggy Mahoney April 13, 2011 at 08:35 PM
After watching last night's city council meeting I was embarrassed to be a citizen of the City of Medford, Councilors Marks and Penta's resolution to ban electronic devices was completely inappropriate considering the extreme budget shortfalls that the city will face in the coming fiscal year. The councilors should focus on the pertinient issues at hand rather than petty resolutions that target technical procedures within the legislative body. Councilor Penta's remarks were completely unprofessional in regards to his tone and derogatory remarks towards Councilor Camuso. Councilors Penta, Marks, and the city council as a whole should focus on the potential laying off of teachers which are much more important issues that the city is currently facing. Councilor Camuso throughout the years has been the most responsive and reachable legislator in the city and will continue to get my support in the coming election. As an employee of a fortune 500 company I know first hand that laptops and handheld electronic devices are used routinely in meetings which facilitates discussions and easy access to online materials.
Joe Viglione April 14, 2011 at 12:18 AM
Peggy, I respectfully disagree. Though Paul A. Camuso & I have had good conversations outside of the council chambers, in the lobby or at a coffee shop, he does get up and leave the council chamber more frequently than any other councilor, in my opinion based on information and belief (and seeing it with my own eyes.) Sometimes Mr. Camuso likes to shake hands with people in the auditorium...but while the other councilors are working on issues important to Medford, Paul is busy being a politician as if the election is around the corner. He personally left the council in October of 2006 to talk to me ...downstairs as I was going to my car. That was totally inappropriate ...why couldn't he have discussed his issues with me ON CAMERA for the city to hear and evaluate? Now he likes to text. Have you walked into a council meeting to watch Mr. Camuso playing with his phone? Do you see the other six councilors doing this? NO! It's nothing personal, Paul, it is about doing the job that Breanna, Bob Penta, Bob Maiocco, Michael Marks, Fred Dello Russo Jr. and Mark Arena do...whether we agree with them or not...the other six councilors pay attention. They aren't always up and walking around the auditorium, they aren't texting... Again - Mr. Camuso knows I have no problem saying this to him in public or personally to him outside of council chambers. He was elected to do a job...that means not texting, not glad handing...but being attentive to Medford residents.
MKW April 14, 2011 at 02:47 AM
John Moore: I probably should have explained myself better for you... You know to make sure you get it... Unless the computer is required at every meeting then that is a different ball game. The City Council Meeting is not an appropriate venue.. And don't be so pompous..just because I disagree with the use of computers at certain meetings doesn't mean they scare me. I am quite experienced with technology. Don't waive and hold high the technology banner and forget about professional etiquette and the art of attentive and active listening.
MKW April 14, 2011 at 02:56 AM
Nothing like being a Medford Citizen, standing at the podium and seeing everyone's eyes in their computers to give you that warm and fuzzy feeling that they are listening to you. Your kidding, right? 99% of the information that they require needs to come from other City Departments...whom aren't sitting in front of their computers at that time. It's not like they are meeting during business hours. I suppose there is a website out there that can provide them with statistical data on how many times the Mayor has failed to get back to them on their resolutions? Or perhaps the Mayor is eagerly sitting in front of his Computer at home just waiting for a council member to e-mail him? Give me a break. At the end of the day IT's ABOUT PERCEPTION..
Joe Viglione April 15, 2011 at 12:49 PM
Here's the solution, residents. Paul A. Camuso is paid to do a job. When he texts during a Council meeting, those texts become public property. Let us see what Camuso is doing each week BEFORE we vote in the election! I have a good idea WHO Camuso was allegedly texting and WHAT he was allegedly saying during a couple of council meetings! It is speculation, but worth exploring! WRITE A PUBLIC RECORDS REQUEST TO SEE WHAT CAMUSO WAS TEXTING AT EACH AND EVERY COUNCIL MEETING It is your right as a citizen. Get a Public Request Template online and send it to Camuso and to City Hall. Get those texts! Let us read them!
Oedipa Mossmoon April 15, 2011 at 07:48 PM
"Ask yourselves this... When is the last time you went into a business meeting with colleagues and thought it was OK to answer your phone, text or open your computer??" All the time actually. Where I work, people would think I dropped the ball if I didn't bring my iPhone to a meeting. I need to pull up correspondence at a moments notice. All this talk of "you should be prepared *before* the meeting" doesn't account for the dynamic nature of meetings and, frankly, life in the 21st information economy.
Nancy Carbone April 15, 2011 at 10:11 PM
"I have the brain that god gave me. No one is going to computer me to tell me what to say or do, or advise me." I can't decide if this quote alone makes this story worthy of Weekend Update on Saturday Night Live or Tosh.O on Comedy Central. Councilors, please behave and focus on the issues at hand.
David April 15, 2011 at 11:24 PM
Mr. Joe Viglione, I know you have a personal vendetta against Mr. Camuso, but he has done a lot for this city and he stands up for what he believes in and does not play politics. Sure he shakes hands...you wouldn't if you were a city councilor? I hope Camuso runs for Mayor in the near future, I think a young guy like him would help this city get things done. Medford needs some change in this city, from EVERY angle.
JD April 16, 2011 at 03:16 PM
JD I agree with changes from the Mayor down, but Paul Camuso would never be elected Mayor, besides why would he leave the sheriffs dept or would he do both jobs. Mr Camuso please release your text messages and set the record straight.
Arthur DeLuca April 17, 2011 at 06:28 AM
That resolution was hastily crafted & sloppily worded, IMHO. If prohibited from using ANY "electronic communication devices," they couldn't use the table mikes, the TV16 cameras etc. Penta's e "God created us without computers" reasoning is just plain prehistoric. God created you without clothes Mr Penta, do you plan to show up naked? It's what you do with a device that makes it right or wrong; not the device itself. One can play hangman or tic-tac-toe or doodle with a pencil and paper as easily play games on a PC. If the contents of one's PC are subject to scrutiny by the public merely by virtue of the fact that they bring it behind the railing, then it would follow that the contents of their pockets, wallets, purses etc would be subject to the same scrutiny. No, it's only the contents of what one enters into the record that is subject to review by the public. I've gone to City Hall asking for copies of documents that have been received & placed on file. I have always been given a copy without any trouble at all. If they didn't hand it in to the public record, then it is NOT a part of the city business; but an "unpublished work". What's next, are you going to insist for the right to shoot them up with sodium pentothol (or maybe I should call it PENTA-thol?) A.K.A. truth serum, so you can find out what they were thinking during the meeting? Notes are notes... the method someone chooses to keep them and refer to them is just that; the method they choose.
JD April 17, 2011 at 02:17 PM
Who ever is using JD against Joe Viglione it is not to be confused with me....thanks
Jarret Bencks (Editor) April 17, 2011 at 05:05 PM
Hello Commenters, I'd like to remind all of you that this article is about the use of electronic devices by city councilors during their meetings. Please keep all comments on-topic and civil. Thanks, Jarret
Joe Viglione March 06, 2014 at 01:15 PM
Councilor Camuso allegedly got texts from his Aunty Carol during Council meetings. Camuso claimed on March 4, 2014 that he never heard of the Medford Patch. Go figure. So much for higher standards for elected officials who give themselves a raise with our money.
Arthur DeLuca March 07, 2014 at 12:31 AM
Posting to an almost three year old Patch article, Joe? And based on the level to which the Medford Patch has sunk, I'd say that Paul Camuso is showing great wisdom indeed in not bothering to use up any of his time reading it.
phil March 07, 2014 at 10:43 AM
JoeV, commenting on a Camuso article from 2011??? I can't imagine why the Medford City Solicitor called you delusional....shocked you weren't named to the TV panel you begged to get on...in awe that you are unemployed........jeez, just doesnt make sense - you seem like a level-headed nice guy with no agenda. go figure

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