Three Toledo councilmen have missed at least a dozen meetings each so far this year, and only one of the three has turned down taxpayer money for those missed public sessions.
Councilmen Phil Copeland, Mike Craig, and Lindsay Webb have the worst attendance records.
Mr. Copeland was absent for at least 18 meetings so far this year. He was the only councilman not present Tuesday for council's 2 p.m. agenda review meeting. Ms. Webb missed 13 committee hearings, two regular meetings, and one special meeting. Mr. Craig has missed a dozen committee hearings.
Councilmen can ask to deduct 2 percent from their annual salaries for missing a regular meeting and 1 percent for missing a committee meeting, but so far this year, Mr. Copeland and Councilman Tom Waniewski were the only two members who asked not to be excused for missed meetings and therefore gave back the money.
Mr. Copeland turned down $4,125. Mr. Waniewski has for several years declined to accept money for meetings he did not attend. He returned $825 so far this year — all from missed committee meetings.
The attendance records are becoming fodder in a political race between two councilmen seeking the same higher office with Lucas County.
Councilman George Sarantou, a Republican and private financial adviser, criticized Mr. Copeland, a Democratic labor union official, for missing so many meetings and also for often arriving late to meetings. The two are running against each other in November for Lucas County recorder.
“If you can’t show up for meetings, how can you show up to be the county recorder?” Mr. Sarantou said. “He has one of the worst attendance records of any member of council for sometime now.”
Mr. Sarantou, who is chairman of council’s finance committee, missed two committee meetings so far this year.
Mr. Copeland, who does not have a chairmanship, said he only misses meetings when he is out of town for work.
“Every third Thursday I am out of town for my job,” he said. “I got promoted two times in the last several years so I miss meetings when I am in Washington, D.C., or Columbus.”
Mr. Copeland accused Mr. Sarantou of scheduling finance committee hearings on the days he is out of town.
“I understand it is important, but I don’t want to get into a debate with George,” Mr. Copeland said.
Council Clerk Jerry Dendinger said he could not recall a councilman being denied an excusal anytime during his 14 years working in that post.
Ms. Webb and Councilman Adam Martinez were tied for the top-offender spot in 2011. Both had 19 absences, which for Ms. Webb included three regular meetings and two special meetings. She said the birth of her son last year forced her to miss several meetings.
“I was on maternity leave from mid-September through November from a job that doesn’t contemplate motherhood or sickness or those things that come up in daily human existence,” she said. “I was elected with 70 percent of the vote and the people who I represent appreciate the voice of a working mother on council. I would say this is a part-time job that requires a lot of attention, so the measure of a contribution on council isn’t in the number of committee meetings I missed but in the number of issues I tackled and the results I achieved, which takes lots of hours.”
Mr. Martinez so far this year has been absent for eight committee hearings, two regular meetings, and one special meeting. He missed 16 committee hearings in 2011, one regular meeting, and two special meetings.
Mr. Martinez said his work schedule as a commercial real estate broker and his master’s program in urban planning at Cleveland State University have forced him to miss meetings. He said he has asked not to be excused for missed meetings in the past.
“If I am on vacation, I will ask not to be excused because it is vacation,” he said. “It is one of those thing that I wait and see.”
Mr. Waniewski said he interprets the rules differently than his fellow councilmen. He thinks the choice to deduct salary is not optional.
“I think the rule of council is when you miss a meeting, you deduct your pay,” he said. “That is a good chunk of change out of your net biweekly pay. It was without a question an attempt for me to say, ‘I took seriously my job.’”
Also this year, as of Aug. 28, Councilman Rob Ludeman missed one committee hearing, Steven Steel missed two, Tyrone Riley missed three, D. Michael Collins missed three, and Paula Hicks-Hudson missed four committee hearings and one regular meeting.
Council President Joe McNamara is the only member with perfect attendance this year.
Contact Ignazio Messina at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6171.