Stanford addresses absenteeism of council members

Published 12:01 pm Thursday, April 25, 2019

STANFORD – The Stanford City Council voted this month to amend its ethics ordinance to limit the number of times a council member can miss regular meetings.

During the city’s regular April meeting, Council member Peggy Hester said the council attended a January training session, during which city officials were encouraged by the Kentucky League of Cities (KLC) to set an attendance requirement for regular monthly meetings.

Hester read the following excerpt from the training session the group attended in January: “It’s impossible to conduct business effectively when members do not attend meetings. In fact, it can make quorums difficult and thereby undermine the functioning of the legislative body. If an officer, city board or council member has health problems or has ongoing scheduling problems, the responsible thing to do is resign. If circumstances change in the future, the member can be asked to be reappointed when the next position opens up or can run for reelection.”

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“Failing to follow this provision would lead to the ethics board issuing an opinion of removal to the remainder of the elected officials. At that point, it would be advisable for the body to send a letter to the elected official advising them to the process to resign…”

The state recommends making it a violation to miss more than one-third, or four meetings total, in a 12-month period, Hester said.

“I don’t know if we want to go into a motion on this and make this into an ordinance but we have to do something,” Hester said. “We can’t get into a situation to where we’re only operating with five sometimes four council members. I’d like to hear your all’s discussion on this. We’ve all talked about it before, we need to talk about it now.”

City Attorney John Hackley said the city’s current ethics ordinance speaks of neglect but does not define how many meetings can be missed.

“Our ethics ordinance does speak of neglect,” he said. “It gives a procedure if someone wishes to bring an ethics complaint against a member, they have due process rights. It’s in place, we do have an ethics ordinance. It doesn’t give a magic number of missed meetings.”

Hester said the KLC recommends cities set a minimum requirement for attendance of meetings.

“They’ve encouraged the council to go back home and amend the ordinance,” she said.

Hackley said the council could define “neglect.”

It’s a requirement that Council member Ronnie Deatherage said a lot of the public already believes is in place.

“And when they elect us to these positions, they expect us to be here on our regular meetings. Now, on special meetings I understand because you’ve already got things that you’ve set up and all of the sudden we have to have this meeting…,” he said. “I think people expect everyone to be here.”

As someone who travels regularly to Florida and back to attend meetings Ella Curlis said she expects others to make it to the meetings.

“I drove 875 miles,” Curlis said. “I did it twice to make every effort to be here and I think everyone else should too.”

Deatherage said he’s not a fan of Skype or teleconferences either.

Removing an elected official takes quite a bit of effort, Council member Naren James said.

“I do have to remind council members in the end, every person sitting here, including the mayor, has been elected by a constituency that elected them. It’s a huge bar to reach to remove any elected official,” he said.

James said the council needs to be cautious with how they deal with this issue.

“I was in Europe in the month of June and the mayor called me multiple times and engaged me multiple times dealing with issues with taxing…multiple times on the phone with Bluegrass ADD, (but) I wasn’t at the meeting,” he said. “So you have to be cautious of defining the function of meetings strictly in terms of attendance.”

James said everyone is going to have an absence and suggested keeping a record.

“There is a record, the roll is called at every meeting,” Hester said. “This is a recommendation by the (Kentucky) League of Cities. They have recommended that we come back and either amend an ordinance or make an ordinance as to attendance of meetings.”

Hester said the attendance requirement needs to be set on the local level.

“We had plenty of people running for council this time and there were plenty of good candidates for council and if we can’t be here at the meetings, if we’re going to miss four meetings, that should be it,” she said.

Hester made a motion to move forward with amending the ethics ordinance to define absences of four or more regular meetings on an annual basis as being neglect.

Council member Dalton Miller said the requirement would extend beyond just the city council.

“In that motion, it’s not only for the city council it’s for appointed positions by the mayor, as well, for any board in the city,” Miller said.

Hester said it would take the heat off of council members so they don’t have to personally confront each other about absences.

Curlis said every person appointed or elected to city positions should receive notice of the change.

“It’s going to be published twice,” Hackley said. “It’s just like all other ordinances.”

James asked what the next step would be from there.

“The procedure is already spelled out in the ethics ordinance,” Hackley said. “There’s a petition for a hearing, suspension, voting and termination.”

Council members voted unanimously to move forward with amending the ordinance.