Council mulls pay penalty for absent members

Published 5:20 pm Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Washington’s City Council is considering a proposal by one of its own to reduce a council member’s pay should a council member be absent from a meeting and the absence is not excused.

Councilman Doug Mercer brought up the proposal during the council’s Nov. 18 meeting. Mercer suggested a council member’s monthly pay be reduced by a specific amount if he or she misses one meeting a month or by another specified amount if he or she misses two meetings a month,

The council regularly meets on the second and fourth Mondays of each month, with some exceptions usually because of holidays or conflicts with other council-related functions. Council members make $6,117 annually, which equates to $509.75 per month.

“I’m certainly not trying to pick on any one individual, but we all receive a small salary every month. I think most of us know for the last several months, one of our members has not been here, but in effect has drawn his salary, or I assume drawn his salary. I would like to include in this code of conduct, if we’re going to call it that, that if a member misses a meeting and is unexcused, that he would lose one-third of his month’s salary. If he misses two meetings during a month, he would lose two-thirds of his salary,” Mercer said.

If a member’s absence were excused, then he or she would not lose any salary for missing a meeting, Mercer said.

“I understand there are occasions when your family business or your family has issues that cause you not to be here. You can call and tell us why you are not here, and we can excuse that meeting or not excuse that meeting,” Mercer said. “But when you don’t call and say squat, to me that is an unexcused meeting or unexcused absence.”

Mayor Archie Jennings said the issue along with other issues related to council members’ conduct is leading the council toward developing a “best practices” policy or modifying the city’s code of conduct for its elected officials.

At the same meeting, the council also discussed possible limitations on city allocations for professional development of council members and the mayor. The suggested limit was $500 per year per council member.

“If you’d just give the city attorney and I some leeway to look at that,” City Manager Brian Alligood said.

“That’s why I was trying to frame it so that we didn’t get specific around the one-third. We’re just broaching the subject here,” Jennings said.

Mercer’s motion for staff to prepare a code of conduct for council members, which includes the $500 limit per council member a year for professional development and a reduction in pay for unexcused absences from council meetings, was approved by a 4-0 vote. Councilman Ed Moultrie did not attend the meeting.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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