Missoula City Council attendance ranges from good to worse
(Missoula Current) Meeting attendance by most members of the Missoula City Council was strong over the first 109 days of the year, though some have faced personal issues or work requirements that have kept them away from the job.
Most council members agree that attendance is important as issues move quickly. But they also described the work as a City Council member as a part-time job that pays little, which requires most members to work another job.
Between Jan. 1 and April 19, the City Council held 62 official meetings. That includes 11 Monday night meetings where final decisions are made, and 51 committee meetings, which are held on Wednesday and give council members an opportunity to review and debate that week's issues.
It's at the committee meetings where most of the work is done.
“There is an expectation that you come prepared to all the committee meetings, and the Monday night meeting having looked at all the materials,” said council member Stacie Anderson. “So much of what we do builds on things that we've already done. We have to continue to move forward.”
According to minutes kept for each meeting and recorded by city staff, Anderson has missed roughly 15 meetings between the dates examined, placing her attendance at roughly 75% since the start of the year.
Like most council members, she works a full-time job on top of her work as a Ward 5 representative. Her job requires her to travel at times.
“Because it pays relatively little, most of the rest of us have other jobs. Unfortunately, there will be times where that conflicts. But I try to let the mayor and the council president know when I'll be gone,” Anderson said.
Ward 6 council member Kristen Jordan has missed 30 meetings since the first of the year, placing her attendance at roughly 47%, according to the city's meeting minutes.
Jordan said she had a family medical emergency that required her to take nearly a month away from her responsibilities as a Ward 6 representative. She said she followed protocol in doing so.
“Before taking this time, I spoke with our mayor and our Legislative Services Director to ensure that I took the correct steps to do so, obligated by me and according to statutory requirements,” Jordan said. “I followed these steps, took the time necessary to focus on my family, and am now back doing my work as an elected official.”
Jordan asked the Current to respect her family's privacy regarding her absence and added, “I feel a deep responsibility to my constituents, who voted me into office, to be a faithful, attending representative. I will continue to do so.”
Rules on Attendance
City Council President Gwen Jones, who has missed just one meeting since the first of the year and has an attendance rating of 98%, said the city doesn't have a technical policy on attendance. But it has adopted two rules regarding attendance in the “City Council Rules for the Conduct of Meetings and Business.”
Rule 1 states that “in person participation by City Council members is expected whenever possible.” However, it allows remote participation under “extraordinary circumstances.” That can include illness, family or parental leave or unexpected work travel, among other things.
Jones said council members facing extraordinary circumstances can submit a request via email to participate remotely for a finite period of time.
Rule 30 in the manual also details protocol for absences of more than 10 days. That requires the council member seeking the absence to request permission via email. Jones said she's notified of absences about 75% of the time.
“The people who are showing up and participating are conducting the business. If you're absent, you're not part of the process,” Jones said. “It's considered a part-time job and many people have other jobs, so I don't expect 100% participation. But I also think it's a responsibility and they should be doing their best to be participating. Ultimately, they're responsible to their electorate.”
Other members agreed including council member Mirtha Becerra, who has missed just two council meetings this year, giving her an attendance of around 95%.
While she strives to attend all meetings, Becerra said there are times when that's not possible.
“I think there are times when, for one reason or another, we must miss a meeting,” she said. “Personally, I feel strongly that we carry the voice of our constituents on City Council and therefore, I need to be present and prepared to participate. But if a council member is dealing with an illnesses, a serious family issue or a delicate personal matter, an absence is justified.”
Becerra said it's helpful when council members participate in all meetings and review the materials they're given by city staff. When they don't attend or review the material, she said the city isn't getting “a comprehensive representation of the community in our legislative discussions.”
“But we are more than city councilors. We are parents, spouses, employees, etc., and I understand that absences are sometimes part of that balance,” she said. “But I also believe it's part of our jobs to represent our constituents by attending and participating in the legislative process they voted us to do.”