Showing up is not half the battleWritten by Lisa Renee Ward | | firstname.lastname@example.org
From the day we start school, we are taught that attendance matters. In the work force, attendance is used to judge our performance. In grading elected officials, showing up is not half the battle, but getting their attendance records is.
Recently, Toledo City Council attendance numbers was the focus of a Jan. 21 Toledo Free Press story, “Council members missed 219 meetings in 2009.” I wanted to cover the attendance of Lucas County Commissioners, Toledo Public School Board members and Ohio General Assembly members. It is a work in progress but I am learning along the way.
While the commissioners are assigned to a number of committees, these are on outside agencies’ attendance records not kept by the county. Of the few agencies that record these minutes online, some do not list the names of those who were in attendance, making a separate public information request to each agency necessary.
After three weeks of waiting for an information request to be answered from Toledo Public Schools (TPS), I received an e-mail from Carmen Day of TPS. She thanked me for my patience, then proceeded to tell me that they do not track attendance. I was told to go online and pull up all the minutes for committee meetings and board meetings and find the data that way.
The staff of the General Assembly have not responded to public information requests beyond one call from the House public information/assistant committee clerk to tell me that she could not help me and to refer to me to another person who never responded by phone or by e-mail.
Contacting Rep. Barbara Sears, who is not even my district representative, proved faster in getting some of the information. Her staff person responded within days and provided the information from both the House and the Senate.
I have also discovered the staff of the Ohio Legislative Service Commission is helpful when it comes to finding what is and is not online. Its e-mail communications are prompt and phone calls are always returned.
Toledo City Council’s excused absences are recorded as a part of the Toledo City Journal, which is accessible online. I have learned, however, they do not record unexcused absences.
When Toledo Councilman Phil Copeland missed the Feb. 9 Agenda Review meeting, it was not mentioned at the Feb. 16 Toledo Council meeting because it was not excused. If there is no vote by council to excuse, there is nothing on the record to indicate the absence took place.
While it saves taxpayer dollars, it also makes it more difficult to determine an accurate picture of attendance, unless the council member is transparent about his or her attendance record. With true attendance not being easily accessible, how can we judge the performance of our elected representatives? With the others, it can be subjective; in the case of the General Assembly, Ohio’s Legislative Service Commission specifies the primary sponsors and the status of any legislation presented of as part of the data they provide online.
The 128th General Assembly began Jan. 5, 2009. District 48 Representative Edna Brown has sponsored two bills; Barbara Sears of District 46 has four; District 47’s Peter Ujvagi has 18; and Ohio House Speaker Pro Tempore and District 49 Representative Matt Szollosi is not listed as the primary sponsor of any bills as of Feb 24.
In the Ohio Senate, Mark Wagoner of the 2nd District has sponsored eight bills. District 11’s Teresa Fedor is a primary sponsor of 14 in the current session.
As of Feb. 24, Ujvagi had two bills passed into law; none of the others have bills they are listed as a primary sponsor of pass into law. As of Feb. 19, a total of 683 bills have been presented in the House and the Senate with 17 signed by the Governor into law.
When candidates and elected officials talk about transparency, challenge them to publicly list their complete attendance records.
Then, hold them to it. We deserve to know if they are at least showing up on our behalf.
Toledo Free Press contributor Lisa Renee Ward operates the political blog Glass City Jungle.