The Lee County Board will soon enter a brave new world as a trimmed-down governmental body. The board has 28 members now. When its new term begins in December, it will have 24.
We believe last year’s decision to reduce the board’s size was sound.
We encourage the board to make a collateral decision: Enact an attendance policy.
As a 28-member body, the board has had room for leniency on whether members show up regularly. If several members miss a monthly meeting, the rest can soldier on.
However, one member, Kathy Hummel, a District 1 Republican, has not attended a board meeting since March 2010. Apparently nothing exists in current board policies that makes chronic absence a cause for a member to be expelled.
That situation ought to change.
Reviewing county board attendance records for the past 12 months, no other member comes close to Hummel’s 100 percent absence. Lisa Zeimetz, of Paw Paw, had three absences (and those occurred after she was defeated for re-election in the March primary).
Six board members had two absences: David Gusse, Charlie Thomas, Allyn Buhrow, Jim Wentling, Vern Gottel and Michael Farster (who, unfortunately, died April 11). Six board members had once absence: Arlan McClain, Dick Binder, Greg Witzleb, Marvin Williams, Joe Patzer and Ann Taylor.
What would a reasonable attendance policy be?
At the very least, board members should be expected to attend half the meetings. That would cover a member who missed a few meetings because of vacation or work obligations and who also might take ill for several months.
One would think, though, that a 50 percent attendance bar could easily be raised to 60 percent or 70 percent. The aforementioned Zeimetz, with three absences, still has a 75 percent attendance rate for the past 12 monthly meetings, and thus would not face expulsion.
Maybe the board’s minimum attendance rate should be tied to the voter turnout percentage in the most recent board election. For Lee County, that rate is 70.58 percent.
Because fewer members will be on the new board, each member’s contributions are that much more important to the proper functioning of the county’s legislative body.
For board members who may be loath to establish attendance criteria for themselves and their colleagues, we simply ask, Why?
After all, attendance policies have been established for county departments up and down the line. If employees quit coming to work, they aren’t given a 21/2-year grace period. They are dismissed, and the position is filled by someone else.
The same thing should happen when an elected board member fails to attend meetings for an unreasonably long period of time. It’s only fair to other conscientious board members and to the public at large.