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Proposal: Dock pay for absences

A councilman adds the item to a workshop agenda after three of five members miss a recent meeting.

By ANNE LINDBERG

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


PINELLAS PARK -- Ed Taylor thinks some council members miss too many meetings, and he has an idea to get their attention: Dock their pay for each absence.

"I think we, like all city employees, should have some work-related absences approved, and if we go beyond that, we should not be compensated for the time missed," Taylor said Friday.

That is the gist of a proposal Taylor wants to discuss at Tuesday's council workshop, 7:30 p.m. on the second floor of City Hall, 5141 78th Ave. N. The meeting is open to the public, but there is public comment only with the permission of council members.

Taylor's theory goes this way: When a council member is elected, he or she agrees to meet 46 times a year. That means two workshops and two meetings each month, except December.

Those 46 meetings, Taylor said, are the bare minimum of the job and the least a council member can do is to attend those.

Under Taylor's plan, a council member could miss up to two meetings and/or workshops a year with no penalty. Any absences after that would be penalized.

One additional missed meeting or workshop would cost a council member 25 percent of that month's pay. For the mayor, who makes $1,250 a month, that would be a loss of $312.50. For council members, who earn about $1,083 a month, the loss would be about $271.

Two missed meetings and/or workshops and the cost would be half the council member's monthly salary. All the way to: Miss a month of meetings? No paycheck.

"If the chair is empty, so should be the bank account," Taylor said. "It's simple arithmetic."

Taylor denied that he was targeting any one council member. He decided to have the item placed on the workshop agenda after the most recent council meeting, which three members attended.

Chuck Williams was out of town at a memorial for Peter Sznerch, a former Pinellas Park firefighter who died recently. Patricia Bailey-Snook was away after the death of her father.

"You feel very silly with three people sitting up there," Taylor said. "It's been bothering me for a long time. It should have been brought up before now."

If a controversial item comes before the council and some members are absent, the person who brings the item forward has the option to come back at another time when the entire council is sitting. That's inconvenient and unfair to make people come back again, Taylor said.

The issue of absences on the council has come up before, when Pinellas Park resident Joel Woltman complained about Bailey-Snook's attendance record.

In 1998, Bailey-Snook missed four council meetings and four workshops, or eight of 46 meetings.

Her attendance record was worse in 1999: 15 absences in 46 meetings.

Last year, she missed eight workshops and five council meetings.

In 2001, eight sessions into the year, she has missed two workshops and a meeting.

Bailey-Snook did not return a phone message Friday for comment. But in the past few years, she has had a series of operations after being involved in a car accident that was not her fault.

Her council colleagues have better attendance records.

From 1998 to 2000, Chuck Williams missed as many as six meetings in one year. This year, he has been absent once.

Mayor Bill Mischler at the most has missed five meetings in one year during the same time.

Taylor missed two meetings last year. The funeral home owner blamed his absences on business conflicts.

The final council member, Rick Butler, has perfect attendance since being elected.

Taylor said he is uncertain how his idea will go over with the rest of the council.

Butler said Friday that he had not yet read the workshop agenda.

Mischler was doubtful about the wisdom of the idea. Being elected is not like working for the private sector, he said. A council member can listen to the tape of workshop sessions and thus be prepared for a council meeting. That doesn't happen in the private sector, he said.

"I would rather just talk about it right now," Mischler said. "Let's have some dialogue and take it from there."

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