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Council won't tie pay, attendance

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Councilwoman Anita Hummer

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Sunday, July 16, 2017

City Council has rejected drafting a policy that could dock councilors' pay when they miss meetings.

During a council meeting last week, Councilors Anita Hummer and Ray Donnelly pushed for councilors to consider new rules on how they are paid.

Their effort failed by a 5-2 vote, however, with several councilors blasting the idea of tying their pay to meeting attendance.

As she said during the prior week’s finance committee meeting, Hummer — city council’s mayor pro tem — said she raised the issue of council pay in response to constituent concerns. She suggested setting a policy on council's compensation that also defines excused and unexcused absences.

Hummer also suggested the policy focus on council’s “work” sessions and “regular” sessions – the routine meetings the council holds over the course of a year – but not the council's many standing committees. That would be too complicated, Hummer said.

Responding to a question from Councilor Tony Stimatz, Hummer added, “for unexcused absences where council members didn't call in and let the contact point know (they'd be absent), then the public was saying they shouldn't be paid for that meeting if they didn't ask to be excused from it.”

Tied to the compensation issue, Donnelly also asked city staff to compile a list of councilors' absences since 2016. That report showed Councilor Darius Horton had the most absences over that time, missing 17 of 69 council meetings, as well as more than half of all finance committee meetings. Councilor Jean Baker had the second-most absences over that time, with 14.

The councilor with the fewest absences is Hummer, who only missed a special meeting called by Councilors Johnnie Walton and Michael Brooks this April.

Alluding to that report, Hummer said “it wasn't my intent to make anyone look bad.” She said her only point in tying council pay to attendance was to respond to public concerns over councilor absences from meetings.

That led Donnelly to move that councilors' salaries be reduced by 5 percent for an unexcused absence, up to 10 percent a month. That would mean a councilor who missed a meeting for an unexcused absence would lose at most $60 a month from their $600 monthly salary. The absence penalty would cost the mayor pro tem and mayor slightly more, however, as they are paid $650 and $700 a month, respectively.

Councilors Brooks and Walton vehemently opposed Donnelly's motion, however, claiming that meeting attendance is not a measure of councilors' job performance.

“With all the issues we have, this is the last thing we need to be discussing,” Brooks said. “Any council member who votes on this, something is wrong.”

Questioning the logic of the proposal, Brooks also claimed that, over the years, he has often responded to concerns of constituents who live outside of his ward. He questioned if he should be paid more for doing another councilor's job.

Brooks also said Hummer and Donnelly’s proposal would also take councilors into the “murky water” of defining what's an excused absence. He gave the example of a councilor requesting an excused absence merely because family was visiting from out of town.

Donnelly suggested the absence would be excused, so long as the councilor called in ahead of time.

Nevertheless, Brooks maintained his opposition to the proposal, noting, “sitting on council is not just attending this meeting.”

Similarly, Walton argued that setting conditions for councilors' pay can become subjective. Someone who says nothing during council meetings arguably isn't being paid as much, he suggested.

Walton also took issue with City Clerk Vivian White, in a breakdown of attendance so far for 2017, for not reporting other councilors' absences from a meeting he and Brooks called on April 13. Only Brooks and Walton showed up on time to the meeting, denying the quorum needed for council to meet.

Donnelly reiterated his view that requiring councilors to call in ahead of time and report absences was a reasonable requirement. He said that unexcused absences don't serve the public. However, he withdrew his motion and moved instead for city staff to draft a compensation policy for further consideration.

Only he and Hummer voted for the motion, however. Brooks, Walton, Horton, Stimatz and Baker voted against it. Councilor Rickey King was absent from the meeting for what city officials said were health reasons.

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