Pols AWOL from the job

By Chuck Bennett, amNewYork Staff Writer


November 10, 2006


As City Council members mull giving themselves a 25% raise, an amNewYork review of individual attendance records found plenty of room for improvement -- particularly in the case of three legislators who have missed a quarter of their meetings so far this year.


The 51 members of the Council (a job that's officially part time and pays between $90,000 to $118,050 a year) had a collective absentee rate of 12% during the first nine months of the year, the analysis showed.


The three councilmen with the worst records. Joel Rivera (D-Bronx), Miguel Martinez (D- Manhattan) and Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn) missed 26% of their scheduled meetings, the amNewYork analysis showed.


Council members' duties include attending individual committee meetings to discuss legislation, public hearings and full Council gatherings to vote on bills.


"It's a nagging problem," said Dick Dadey, executive director of Citzens Union, a government watchdog group. "If one is absent 25% of the time from a job, I'm not sure how much longer a private employer would let him keep his job."


Still, the Council -- under the new leadership of Speaker Christine Quinn -- seems to be on track to be better attended than 2005 when members skipped about 20% of scheduled meetings.


"Council members should make every effort to be present at as many hearings as possible," said Maria Alvarado, Quinn's spokeswoman. "We have developed new policies in order to establish a clearer attendance policy for council members to follow. We will be moving forward on these proposals in the coming weeks."


The council is currently considering a controversial proposal that would boost their base salaries from $90,000 to $112,500 for what is still considered a part-time job. Many members would earn even more from stipends for chairing various committees.


The legislation is still subject to a vote by the full Council, which hasn't been scheduled yet. Mayor Bloomberg has said he supports the increase.


Even with possible raises on the way, a full 20% of the body missed one out of five meetings from January to October, the record analysis showed.


Joel Rivera, the Democratic majority leader, who is the second highest paid member of the council at $113,000 a year, blamed missing 31 of his 119 meetings on preparation for his July wedding and subsequent two-and-a-half week honeymoon to Mexico.


Barron, who represents Brooklyn and missed 22 out of the 85 meetings he was supposed to attend, said he's hardly shirking the job.


"I'm in police precincts trying to get my people out or in landlord court trying to get my people from being evicted," he said. "We need to have our attendance checked for the time we are in our community."


Likewise, Martinez, who represents Washington Heights said, "It doesn't mean I was on vacation. ... I was probably in the district at the time." He added that he sits on seven committees that can hold meetings at the same time.


Councilman Tom White (D-Queens) missed 17% of his meetings -- a marked improvement from 1995 when he had the worst record in the Council -- a 45% absentee rate.


Freshman Dan Garodnick (D-Manhattan) had the best record -- zero missed meetings out of 110. He declined to comment.


Also meeting perfect attendance were Tony Avella, Melinda Katz and Christine Quinn.


"It's the responsibility being a member of the City Council to attend committee meetings," Avella (D-Queens) said.


With research by Angela Cheng


Top 10 HIGHEST absenteeism

By Chuck Bennett, amNewYork Staff Writer, November 10, 2006

Joel Rivera, 26%

Miguel Martinez, 26%

Charles Barron, 26%

Albert Vann, 24%

Maria Baez, 24%

Larry B. Seabrook, 24%

James Sanders, Jr., 24%

Erik Martin Dilan, 21%

David Yassky, 20%

Alan Gerson 20%


Top 10 LOWEST absenteeism

By Chuck Bennett, amNewYork Staff Writer, November 10, 2006

Christine C. Quinn, Perfect

Melinda R. Katz, Perfect

Daniel R. Garodnick, Perfect

Tony Avella, Perfect

Simcha Felder, 1%

Michael C. Nelson, 2%

Helen Sears, 3%

Maria Del Carmen Arroyo, 3%

Peter F. Vallone, Jr., 4%

Jessica S. Lappin, 4%


Copyright 2006 AM New York