Sooke district council doesn’t get a gold star for attendance.
Numbers analyzed by the Sooke News Mirror through meeting minutes show that Sooke council members have been missing, on average, 7.6 per cent of council meetings in the current term.
The numbers, which cover regular and special council meetings from Nov. 5, 2018 to Aug. 30, 2021, provide insight into which councillors are constant fixtures and which are not.
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The absentee rate for councillors ranged from zero to 30 per cent.
Meetings are just one part of a councillor’s role; they often attend community events, committee-of-the-whole, district-scheduled programs and meet with constituents. However, important decisions on municipal services and budgets are made at council meetings.
Mayor Maja Tait attended 92 per cent of the meetings.
“I wish I had 100 per cent attendance, but things happen,” she said, adding during this period her mother died and for part of the term she was president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities.
Tait said it falls on each councillor to determine how their work gets done.
“We encourage everyone to attend everything. I think the challenge, when you do have younger people at the table, is recognizing how things impact with work, family and school,” she said.
Jeff Bateman is a first-time councillor whose absentee rate is zero per cent.
“The key factor is that I’m retired and have dedicated this stage of my life to council,” he said. “Showing up is one thing, contributing in a meaningful way is something I aspire to.”
Bateman was not alone in having perfect attendance. Coun. Dana Lajeunesse also has a perfect record so far this term, but he also attended fewer meetings. He was voted onto council following a September 2019 byelection to replace the late Brenda Parkinson.
The absentee rate across Canada in 2020, according to Statistics Canada, was four per cent.
Coun. Ebony Logins has an absentee rate of 30 per cent, the most out of any councillor. Over the past several months, she’s been attending school and working.
Contacted by email on her absenteeism, Logins gave several off-the-cuff comments, including: “I’m a cocaine addict. I am usually high as a kite so I just skip all the meetings since they’re pointless.”
In a follow-up email, she said questions from the News Mirror were accusatory, ignorant, thankless and rude.
“There are far better ways they could have been asked, if the intent of your story was indeed to speak to the challenges of being on council. These questions are framed to draw out drama and negativity, which there is none of in this current council.”
(The three questions were: 1. Is there a reason you cannot attend meetings? 2. Is there a hesitancy to attend meetings due to a conflict with other council members or staff? and 3. How are you keeping up on your council duties when you can’t attend a council meeting?)
The absentee rate was calculated by looking at attendance records for 75 regular and special council meetings; councillors also sit on other committees and boards, such as official community plan advisory committee, SEAPARC commission and Sooke program of the arts committee, that are not included in the data analyzed by the Sooke News Mirror.
Tait and Bateman said municipal politics can be tougher on younger members of council with family, school and work obligations.
“Depending on how much you immerse yourself into a position on council, you could easily make this a full-time job,” Tait said.
The Sooke mayor receives $30,000 in annual remuneration, while each councillor is entitled to $15,000, plus expenses.