EVERETT — How many days could you miss work and still have a job?
The answer is probably quite a few if you serve on the Everett City Council.
The council has no formal attendance policy. That means in practice every absence — everything from a serious illness to a child’s baseball g
ame — is excused.
That’s led to a lot of vacant seats at council meetings. More than 80 percent of meetings since January 2010 have had at least one of the seven members missing. Often, it’s two or three empty seats.
“There’s really nothing defined,” said council President Shannon Affholter.
It’s up to the council president’s discretion to excuse absences, he said. In his experience, the absences are usually for family events, job conflicts or personal issues such as illness.
A council member who has three unexcused absences could be dismissed, according to the city charter. That seems unlikely given that in the last two years, no council member has received an unexcused absence — not a single one.
“We are talking about a part-time role,” Affholter said. “A lot of it is trusting your colleagues. I haven’t felt there was a need to distrust them.”
As a general practice, council members let the council president know when they plan to be gone and give a reason, although that’s typically not shared publicly.
The council member with the best attendance record is Drew Nielsen, who has missed just six meetings since January 2010.
Councilman Arlan Hatloe has missed the most meetings, according to council minutes. In total, he’s missed 31 — that’s about a third of the total meetings in that time period.
Most of those absences occurred because Hatloe was tending to a seriously ill family member.
“I notified the council president when I wasn’t able to get back on time,” he said. “I tried to get there for important votes.”
He expects his attendance to improve in the coming months.
Councilman Ron Gipson missed 21 meetings in that same time period. He said some of his absences occurred because his teenage daughter was hospitalized. In other cases, he missed council meetings to attend family activities or his children’s sporting events. He said he spends many hours meeting with people in the community and attending events. He’s unapologetic about being there for his family.
“I’m a husband and a family man first and a councilman second,” he said.
Gipson’s detractors have tried to make his attendance a campaign issue.
He’s in a re-election contest, as are Nielsen, Affholter and Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher.
City Council members are paid $26,279.52 annually. The City Council president gets a bit more: $34,164.
That paycheck isn’t just for attending meetings. Although the job is considered part-time, diligent council members may spend many, many hours behind the scenes doing things such as talking with people who call or email with problems, researching complex subjects or attending neighborhood events.
On top of that, virtually everyone on the council has another full-time day job. Several of the council members are parents with young children at home.
“The commitment of City Council is not only measured by the minutes council members are seated at the dais, but also by the time and commitment they devote to understanding issues and reaching out to citizens to understand their needs and concerns,” said Councilman Jeff Moore.
Moore has missed 20 meetings since he took office in January 2010. Most of those absences were due to conflicts with his day job with Everett Public Schools. Some were due to illness. He also made time to take a family vacation last summer.
He tries to avoid missing meetings when important issues are expected to be addressed.
“It’s essential to strive to attend all meetings,” he said. “But there’s more to the job.”
Since the council did away with committees and now does most of its work at meetings, attendance is important, said Stonecipher. She’s missed 15 meetings in the past 22 months — most of them in the past year after the council switched to holding one meeting a month during the lunch hour. She works in Seattle and couldn’t leave work. Now she takes a personal day once a month so she can show up.
She described the council’s attendance policy as “kind of a joke.”
“I’ve seen a council member not show up without notice and get excused,” she said.
However, Stonecipher doesn’t necessarily think it’s a good idea to change the council’s attendance policy.
“Who is to judge if someone should be excused?” she asked.
Reporter Debra Smith: 425-339-3197 or email@example.com.
Everett City Council absences from January 2010 through Oct. 12.
Arlan Hatloe 31
Ron Gipson 21
Jeff Moore 20
Shannon Affholter 16
Brenda Stonecipher 15
Paul Roberts 13
Drew Nielsen 6
Source: Everett City Council minutes