Two Councilmen refuse pay for absencesWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
Toledo City Council members have two options when they miss a meeting: either have their pay docked or get an “excusal” from the other members. Being excused is common practice. Only two of the 12 members have taken pay deductions in 2012.
Council members can deduct 2 percent from their annual salaries for missing a regular meeting and 1 percent for missing a committee meeting. But most opt for the other route — if two-thirds of Council votes for an excusal, the absent member still gets paid.
So far in 2012, Council has not voted down any excusals.
“In my 14 years, no one has not been excused,” said Council clerk Jerry Dendinger.
Members do not have to give a reason to get excused.
Councilmen Phil Copeland and Tom Waniewski are the only two members who have taken pay deferments this year. As of Sept. 7, Copeland has had 18 absences, including one regular meeting. He took deferments for 13 committee meetings and one special Council meeting, amounting to $4,125. Waniewski has had four absences in 2012, all from committee meetings, with one being excused and three others being deferred, amounting to an $825 deduction in his pay.
Waniewski and Copeland were also the only two to defer last year. In 2011, Copeland deferred $7,700 and missed 29 meetings, including four regular meetings and one special meeting. Of those, he had two regular meetings and two committee meetings excused. Waniewski deferred $4,125, accounting for 15 committee meetings. He had one excused absence for a committee meeting.
So far in 2012, President Joe McNamara has had perfect attendance. Lindsay Webb had the most excusals with 16, including two regular meetings and one special meeting, followed by Mike Craig with 13 missed committee meetings and Adam Martinez with 11, including one special meeting and two regular meetings. For committee meeting excusals, Rob Ludeman had one, George Sarantou had two, Steve Steel had three, Tyrone Riley had three and D. Michael Collins had four. Paula Hicks-Hudson had five excusals for committee meetings and one for a regular meeting. The absences, had they not been excused, would amount to about $20,000 in deferments.
Nonpresidential Council members make $27,501.76 per year. The president makes $32,000.80 per year.
In 2011, Webb and Martinez had the most absences at 19 each, including three regular meetings and two special meetings for Webb and two regular meetings and one special meeting for Martinez.
Attendance is personally important to McNamara. In 2011, he missed three committee meetings.
“I’m elected to go to meetings. That’s the point of Council and I take it seriously and that’s why I try to plan my life around meetings,” he said.
However, McNamara said it is routine to excuse people.
“City Council is a part-time job and people do have other things going on in their lives. I do think that allowing for people to miss some meetings is reasonable, but the important thing is that we have enough members so we’re able to have a quorum,” McNamara said.
Having enough members for quorum hasn’t been an issue in his tenure, he added.
In 2012, Waniewski has taken just one excusal for an agenda review Aug. 21 as a “vacation.” He said it’s his usual policy to take a deduction for any missed meetings.
“I feel so strongly about doing your job, particularly when there’s legislation that affects people. There’s zoning issues that affect businesses and you’ve gotta show up for the job in order to get paid for it,” he said.He said many members like himself have other jobs and family emergencies or illnesses do arise. However, Waniewski said, “Maybe what we need to do before we excuse [members] is ask what their excuse is.”
Still, Waniewski said he doesn’t see himself voting down someone’s excusal.
“It’s on an individual’s conscience to decide whether they should excuse themselves, so I don’t see myself objecting,” he said.
Waniewski praised McNamara for his scheduling abilities and also said this Council has been better about attendance than those in past years.
Craig said he generally doesn’t skip regular meetings, but sometimes misses committee meetings if he has other Council business or a prior arrangement.
“You may only have a day or two or maybe three notice and if I already have something scheduled, I go and do what I have scheduled,” he said. Craig also said committee meetings are sometimes called for Council members who have questions he may not need answered.
“Why would I go to a meeting that’s unnecessary for me and why would I take that away from my pay if I’ve done my homework?” he said.
Committee meetings are also recorded and can be listened to later, he added.
Copeland, who is running for Lucas County recorder against Sarantou, had the most absences and the most deferments. He said he wasn’t sure of the total number of meetings he missed, but that his job at Laborers’ Local 500 often takes him away from home. Copeland is out of town for work on the third Thursday of every month.
“A lot of times I’m out for work and I didn’t feel I should be paid for meetings [if] I wasn’t there,” he said.
The times he took excusals were for reasons like sickness, he added.
Webb said some of her absences in recent years could be attributed to maternity leave and raising a family. She gave birth in both 2010 and 2011.
“The people I represent appreciate the fact that I’m a hardworking mom and I have a full-time job. City Council is considered part time and I have a large family and I keep all the balls in the air,” she said. Webb also said her voice as a working mom is “essential” to Council.
“I earn my paycheck in a number of different ways,” Webb said, adding that she listens to recordings of missed committee meetings and gets notes from other members. She is also a coordinator for the National Employment Law Project in Ann Arbor.
Martinez said he missed a number of meetings because of his position as an adjunct teacher at Owens Community College and because of a master’s program in Cleveland that he commuted to.
“Most of us do have our other jobs that may not be as flexible,” Martinez said. He added that he has taken pay deferments in the past if he took a vacation or didn’t have a reasonable excuse for being absent.
“There’s always an opportunity to go online and listen to the conversations that have been held,” he added. Martinez said he also checks with committee chairs to make sure there aren’t any impending issues in the case of an absence.
McNamara emphasized that attendance of regular City Council meetings is more important than committee meetings.
“Members can better plan their schedules around Council meetings,” he said, adding that committee meetings can be at the “whim” of the chair.
Copeland said of Sarantou, his opponent and chair of the finance committee, “He schedules [finance committee meetings] when it fits him. That’s the thing.”
Sarantou said he has scheduled three finance committee meetings on the third Thursday of the month to accommodate other people who needed to be there. The rest have been on other days, he said.
“I will match my attendance records with [Copeland’s] attendance records any day,” Sarantou said. “The fact of the matter is he’s missed a huge amount of meetings.”
“If you’re gonna miss that many meetings, why should you get paid?” Sarantou said. He asked how voters should trust Copeland would show up at the recorder’s office if elected.
If elected, Copeland said he plans to be a “full-time recorder.” Sarantou also pledged to be there every day.
In 2011, Sarantou missed 12 meetings, including one special meeting.
Copeland said he doesn’t keep track of Sarantou’s attendance.
“When I’m there, I’m there to try to get the work done for the City of Toledo,” he said.