Blame a fellow Englishman for ruining Coun. Paul Gerrard’s attendance record streak. Gerrard played hooky last month to go to the Elton John concert. But, with only four missed meetings since being elected to Saanich council, Gerrard has the best attendance this term of anyone on council.
“I have the time to allocate to attend the council meetings. But I also believe it’s part of why I got into politics,” he said. “I believe you should be able to make the commitment to be there as often as you can.”
The last meeting he’d missed prior to the public hearing on Feb. 15 was on July 6, 2009. A total of 115 council meetings, public hearings and financial planning meetings have taken place since council took office on Dec. 1, 2008.
On the flip side, Coun. Wayne Hunter has missed 23 of those meetings. Since his election to council, Hunter has lost both his parents, one of whom suffered a prolonged illness, he explained. The father of a five-year-old, there are also only certain times during the years when Hunter and his family can vacation – around spring break and Christmas – as his wife is a middle school administrator.
“I certainly have a lot of confidence in the people around the table,” he said. “I try to be there as much as I can.”
Coun. Susan Brice, who lost her husband George in December 2009 after a lengthy battle with ALS, has missed 13 meetings. Despite what comes up in her personal life, Brice says she strives for perfect attendance. “In all my years of public service I’ve always attempted to be there 100 per cent of the time because most of the issues are ongoing,” she said.
“I find it very helpful to be part of the discussions at all stages. It certainly makes for more comprehensive decision-making on my part.”
The community charter, which outlines rules for attendance at council and committee of the whole meetings, states a councillor could be disqualified from his or her position for missing 60 consecutive days or four consecutive regular council meetings, whichever is the longest. A councillor can apply for a leave of absence if he or she can’t make it to a meeting.
Coun. Judy Brownoff has missed nine meetings; Mayor Frank Leonard and Coun. Dean Murdock have been absent for eight; Coun. Vicki Sanders has missed seven; and councillors Vic Derman and Leif Wergeland were away for six.
“It’s always a difficult decision to make when you have to excuse yourself from a meeting,” said Murdock, who missed meetings for his son’s birth and for his day job with the Ministry of Health Services. “When it comes to a situation where someone is in a position that doesn’t give them the flexibility to be at most of the meetings, or their personal life doesn’t allow that flex, I think they need to evaluate whether or not they want to continue.”
Gerrard, who runs a construction company, said council shouldn’t just consist of retired people. However, people who are employed should be confident they can make the time commitment if they want to be on council.
“Everyone has to make up their own mind about whether they can attend every meeting or if the ones they miss are not onerous,” he said. “But you’re not only at council meetings, you’re at committees and boards, and sometimes you need to do site visits … The time committment is quite substantial, and it’s a lot more than just a meeting or public hearing for a couple hours on a Monday or Tuesday night.”