CITY HALL — City Council absences were up from last year, with a total of 25, a Daily Press review of City Hall records showed.

Mayor Pro Tem Terry O’Day led the group with eight absences, followed by Mayor Pam O’Connor with six.

The other five council members missed 11 meetings combined.

Last year, council members missed 20 meetings.

The Santa Monica City Council. (Photo courtesy smgov.net)

The Santa Monica City Council. (Photo courtesy smgov.net)

The council met a total of 28 times from Jan. 1 to Dec. 17 of this year.

Santa Monica City Council members are not full-time public servants like in larger cities such as Los Angeles. For their work they receive an annual salary of $13,449, while the mayor is paid $16,139, according to City Hall’s latest salary schedule report. Council members have been known to spend many hours outside of meetings working on city issues or meeting with residents and business owners.

O’Day, who missed only two meetings last year, said that a new job at a start-up company combined with some family health issues were the reasons for his frequent absence.

“We all do this as a service and I do my best to be there for the important meetings,” he said. “I have a demanding full-time job and two young kids and everyone has different kinds of demands on them. We do the best given those other priorities in our life.”

O’Day missed nearly 29 percent of the meetings, the second highest annual percentage among council members in the past five years.

Council member Kevin McKeown made it to all but two meetings this year and has missed only 14 meetings in the past five years.

“In a representative democracy, constituents’ voices are heard through the people who’ve earned their votes, so I schedule my personal time around council meetings,” he said in an e-mail. “Being on council is not a full-time job, and I make my living in our public schools, so I must vacation during class breaks. That’s meant that my absences, while few, are predictable.”

Attendance came up at a council retreat in October during a discussion about agenda setting.

City Manager Rod Gould works with O’Connor and O’Day to set the agendas for every meeting. In the past, an informal practice allowed people to request specific meetings for their proposals to be heard. This, in theory, could allow developers to pick meetings during which slow-growth council members might be absent. Council voted to stop that policy.

The pace and amount of both commercial and residential development has been a hotly-debated issue in Santa Monica as residents raise concerns about height, density and traffic impacts.

“The council direction is to bring agenda items as soon as they are ready, while balancing meetings as much as possible,” Gould said in an e-mailed response to this article. “Council attendance does not factor into these decisions.”

Later in that meeting, council discussed the second reading of ordinances, which generally affirm decisions made previously by the council.

The hotly-debated ordinance that regulates fitness trainers in public parks was momentarily overturned earlier this year during its second reading. O’Day, who had supported the ordinance during the initial meeting, was not present to support it during the second reading (later in the meeting, council voted again, affirming the initial vote).

At the retreat, council members discussed the purpose of the second reading. O’Day posited that it was meant to affirm the will of the council. He said that all council members should support the results of the initial vote.

Councilmember Tony Vazquez, who missed three meetings this year and helped vote down the second reading of the trainers ordinance, disagreed.

“I didn’t feel like I was derailing it,” he said at the retreat. “I felt more like the person that was missing was derailing the process. I think it’s really more the responsibility of somebody not here who voted for it to skip the next meeting and expect me now to change my vote to protect somebody that missed a meeting.”

In 2011 there were 32 total absences in 33 meetings, the highest percentage and total of the past five years. Bobby Shriver led that year, as he did many of his years on the dais, with nine absences.

McKeown said that attendance is key to good debate.

“Having a full council always helps me feel that all points of view have been heard,” he said. “Sometimes a short count means a short meeting, but I’d trade an extra hour for the knowledge that all seven of us tried our hardest for the best solution.”

Council members Gleam Davis, Bob Holbrook, and Ted Winterer each missed only two meetings this year.

 

dave@smdp.com