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Published: Monday, 1/5/2009

Attendance concerns showing up for Toledo City council


Toledo's 12 councilmen can have their salaries trimmed for missing meetings, but Tom Waniewski was the only one to dock his own salary in 2008.

The Republican from West Toledo - who effectively fined himself for missing a committee meeting in December - said it was a purely symbolic gesture but one he would repeat throughout this year.

"We had talked at our retreat about attendance and we were all pretty emphatic about wanting people to attend the committee meetings," he added. "You've got to show up for the meetings - not only the regular council meeting every other Tuesday, but the agenda-review meetings and the committee meetings, because that's where the work gets done."

Attendance in 2008 for council's regular meeting - held every other Tuesday - was generally high, but some councilmen opted to skip committee hearings throughout the year.

The names of the committee members who missed meetings during the previous two weeks are read at council meetings, and they are excused. Without that, a councilman's salary would be docked 1 percent for each missed committee meeting and 2 percent for a missed regular meeting or agenda-review meeting.

Council members are paid $27,500 annually.

These five Toledo City Council  members attended  all 26 regular  council meetings  in 2008. These five Toledo City Council members attended all 26 regular council meetings in 2008.
JETTA FRASER / THE BLADE Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Councilman Frank Szollosi would have lost nearly half of his council salary for 2008 had he not been excused from missed meetings.

He's not alone in skipping.

Michael Ashford would have lost more than 30 percent of his pay.

Some of the other councilmen pointed out late in 2008 that lack of attendance was becoming a serious issue.

Mr. Waniewski issued a related challenge last month that was summarily ignored.

"When I asked about not being excused and offered my colleagues to join me, no one joined me," he said.

Five councilmen had perfect attendance at council's 26 regular meetings: Wilma Brown, D. Michael Collins, Mike Craig, Joe McNamara, and George Sarantou.

And five of the 12 members made it to all 26 agenda-review meetings, which are held the Tuesday preceding the regular meeting. They were Mr. Collins, Mr. Craig, Mr. McNamara, Mr. Sarantou, and Lindsay Webb.

Mr. Szollosi missed the most agenda-review meetings: 13 out of the 26.

He was followed by Phillip Copeland, who missed five, and then Mr. Ashfor, who missed four.

Mr. Szollosi said he would be more active in council this year and attributed his poor attendance to the fact he and his wife had a baby last year and also his pursuit of a master's degree in public policy from the University of Michigan.

"The fact is there are more council committees now than there ever have been and that's wrong," Mr. Szollosi said. "In my defense there are other ways to consider the impact of a member My attendance or lack of attendance shouldn't take away from my contributing as one of the more independent members of council."

Mr. Szollosi also said some members are retired and naturally have more time.

Just last month, council considered toughening its attendance rules during a four-hour retreat, which Mr. Ashford skipped.

Council President Mark Sobczak said council's administrative committee would draft rules to require a written explanation from members who miss a meeting, and to require "substantial attendance" rather than just showing up long enough to be recorded present.

"Some of us have full-time jobs other than being on council, and that's a real issue, but you have to be here and you also have to consider how many meetings a member may hold for his or her own committee," Mr. Sobczak said.

Mr. Sarantou, chairman of council's finance committee, held 13 of his own committee meetings through Nov. 18.

"Based on my experience, I don't know how you can be effective on City Council unless you show up to the committee meetings you are assigned to, and also the agenda review is pretty useful," he said.

Ms. Webb, chairman of council's youth, parks, and recreation committee, called 10 meetings through the same period.

Ms. Webb found it laughable that Mr. Ashford - who is assigned to the committee - did not attend a single hearing all year.

Mr. Ashford said attending those meetings would have been a waste of time.

"It's a phantom committee basically because parks comes under public services - my committee - youth comes under the board of community relations, and recreation goes somewhere else," Mr. Ashford said.

He also pointed out that district councilmen like himself spend "99 percent of their time" handling constituent concerns, which is not the case for at-large members like Mr. Sobczak and Mr. Sarantou.

"There are three or four committees that should be eliminated because they are political in nature: youth, parks and recreation, the intergovernmental committee, and another human resources should blend into committee of the whole," Mr. Ashford said.

Other poor attendance by councilmen assigned to specific committees through Nov. 18 include:

•Mr. Copeland attended only three out of the nine community and neighborhood development committee meetings called by Mr. McNamara. Mr. Ashford and Mrs. Brown attended six of those hearings.

•Mr. Copeland held two human resource committee meetings through the 11-month period.

•Ms. Webb attended eight of the 13 finance committee meetings held by Mr. Sarantou.

•Mr. Ashford attended two of the six health and community relations hearings held by Mr. Waniewski. Mr. Copeland attended three, and Mr. Craig attended four.

•Mr. Szollosi attended three out of the 11 economic development meetings called by Mr. Sobczak. Mr. Ashford and Ms. Webb attended six.

•Mr. Szollosi attended just one of the nine information services committee hearings called by Councilman Betty Shultz. Mr. Sobczak attended six.

•Mr. Szollosi held four of his own intergovernmental committee hearings, of which Mr. Copeland attended none.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:


or 419-724-6171.

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