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Spence leads in EC council meeting absences

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By Jon Hawley
Staff Writer

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Elizabeth City City Councilor Kem Spence missed more than a third of city council meetings in 2018-19, but the councilor said Tuesday he's resolved the schedule conflicts that led to those absences.

Spence, a correctional employee who represents the city's 3rd Ward, missed 16 of 39 council meetings from July 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, based on city records that include minutes, videos of council meetings, and an attendance sheet maintained by City Clerk April Onley. The number does not include absences from committee meetings.

Two councilors tied for the next most absences: Second Ward Councilor Gabriel Adkins, a small-business owner, and Third Ward Councilor and Mayor Pro-Tem Rickey King, a retired police officer. Both were absent from nine meetings.

All three men have filed for re-election, with Spence doing so most recently, on Tuesday. The filing period for this year's council election closes at noon on Friday.

In a phone call Tuesday, Spence explained he's become a unit manager at Pasquotank Correctional Institution, and his normal schedule overlaps with council meetings.

Spence said he has worked out the conflict with his supervisor, so his attendance at council meetings will improve going forward. Spence's last absence was council's June 24 work session; he made it to that night's regular session.

Despite missing some meetings, Spence said he's stayed fully abreast of city issues, and responds promptly to constituents who contact him, usually in the same day.

Adkins did not return a request for comment for this story, but King said his absences were due to a medical issue, and he is optimistic he will miss fewer meetings from now on.

City Council generally meets on the second and fourth Mondays of the month. On the fourth Mondays, it generally holds two back-to-back meetings: a work session at 5:30 p.m. and a regular session at 7 p.m. Work sessions typically allow councilors to receive in-depth reports on city staff's projects and concerns, and provide them direction. Regular sessions usually include important votes and public hearings, and often also include debates on controversial issues.

Spence has missed seven work sessions and six regular sessions since June 30, 2018, as well as three budget sessions during 2019. The budget sessions were for city staff to explain their 2019-20 budget proposal and ask for councilors' guidance on major projects and spending levels.

According to city records, other councilors and their number of absences from meetings included: Councilor Darius Horton, six; Councilor Jeannie Young, three; Councilor Anita Hummer, two; and Councilor Billy Caudle, one.

Mayor Bettie Parker and Councilor Johnnie Walton missed no council meetings in the past 12 months.

In the few instances that councilors arrived so late as to miss the first half of a meeting or more, The Daily Advance also counted those as an absence.

Councilors are not required to attend meetings. Councilors in fact rejected a proposal in 2017 tying pay to meeting attendance.