Do aldermen need their own truancy ordinance?

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-115394345531037.jpg’, ‘Graphic by Jason Carson Wilson’, ”);

Rockford City Council minutes indicate some aldermen struggle with attendance.

Truancy isn’t just a problem facing Rockford Public School District 205. Some aldermen have racked up double-digit absences from Rockford City Council meetings, based on City Council attendance records from May 2005 through July 10.

Controversial Ald. Ann Thompson (D-7) leads the pack. Thompson has missed 15 meetings, including the July 10 meeting. Thompson had difficulty believing her attendance record was that bad: “You must have me confused with Ald. (Linda) McNeely (D-13),” she said.

However, McNeely comes in a close second, having missed 13 City Council meetings. According to Thompson, attending neighborhood watch meetings and medical problems contributed to absences.

McNeely was surprised by Thompson’s observations. “I don’t know why she’d say that,” she said. “I have no reaction.”

While noting serving as an aldermen is a part-time position, McNeely said any absences were due to her responsibilities at home and work. According to a biography on the city’s Web site, the Auburn graduate is an accountant and tax preparer, who’s helping her parents. She also serves as the 16th District State Central Committeeman.

Ald. Daniel Conness (D-14) and Ald. Leonard Jacobson (D-6) have missed 11 meetings. Conness begged to differ. He said, “11 is out of control. It is way off track.” After conferring with the city’s Legal Department, Conness said Legal Director Patrick Hayes determined he’d only missed seven meetings.

Those meetings fell on May 23, May 31, July 18, Aug. 8, Sept. 6 and Oct. 31, 2005, as well as April 3 and May 22, 2006. Conness noted he attended the National Shopping Center convention in Las Vegas in May 2005 and 2006, and was in Springfield Sept. 6 on city business. According to Conness, he missed the Oct. 31 meeting to celebrate Halloween with his three small children.

Jacobson noted his absences, in part, were due to city-related business trips. According to Jacobson, he attends the Illinois Municipal League meeting in Chicago every year. He also recently attended the National League of Cities gathering in Washington, D.C.

Ald. Carl Wasco (D-4) hasn’t missed a meeting, while Ald. Nancy Johnson (D-8) has missed only one Council meeting. Ald. Doug Mark (R-3) has been absent twice.

Their colleagues, Ald. Patrick Curran (R-2), Ald. Victory Bell (D-5) and Ald. Jeff Holt (D-11) have each missed six meetings. Ald. Frank Beach (R-10) and Ald. Bill Timm (R-9) have failed to attend four meetings, while Ald. Joe Sosnowski (R-1) and Ald. John Beck (R-12) have missed three and six meetings, respectively.

City Administrator Jim Ryan said the aldermen’s compensation of about $13,000 a year isn’t tied to attendance. Though Ryan thought attendance had been tied to compensation, he said he was unaware of the exact history.

Attendance problems have spilled over to committee meetings. Jacobson and McNeely both missed nearly 20 Finance & Personnel Committee meetings between May 2, 2005, and July 10, 2006. Sosnowski and Timm missed five and two, respectively, Johnson and Beck both missed only one.

Though Codes & Regulations and Planning & Development Committee minutes from May 2005 through July 2006 were requested, not all were given. According to the March 20 and 27, 2006, minutes, Beach was absent, while Beck missed the March 20, April 24 and June 26, 2006, meetings. Curran missed the May 31 and June 6 meetings, and Holt missed the May 8 and May 15 meetings.

Conness, who serves as committee chairman, missed 10 meetings between May 31, 2005, and April 24, 2006, according to committee meeting minutes. Thompson missed three meetings during the same time period, while Mark missed one.

From the July 26-Aug. 1, 2006, issue

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