“Democracy belongs to those who show up’’ is a proverb often used to inspire citizens to vote. You cannot take possession of elected government if you don’t bother to participate.
The principle can be extended to elected officials. Once citizens vote you in, it’s your obligation to show up for the job.
That’s why recent news about absent Minneapolis City Council members is worth noting. Voters should pay attention to their elected officials’ attendance records as one basic way to assess their performance.
A Star Tribune news analysis recently reported that in the first six months of 2018, Ninth Ward Council Member Alondra Cano topped the list of absent members. She missed 29 percent of the meetings she was supposed to attend, including three of the 15 full council meetings and 16 of 51 committee meetings.
By comparison, according to city records, eight of 13 council members missed at least one full council meeting. First Ward Council Member Kevin Reich missed nearly 15 percent of all meetings, including three of the 15 full council sessions. Council President Lisa Bender, who chairs council meetings and represents the 10th Ward, missed 13 percent of total meetings, including two full council sessions.
In her defense, Cano wrote via e-mail that she was out of town twice during June on personal trips, but “did engage, weigh in, and provide work and support personally via e-mail, text, and phone calls as well as through my office.” She is chair of the council’s public safety committee, and during that month Minneapolis experienced major public safety problems, including accusations of racial profiling in marijuana stings, concerns about police influence over sedating suspects with ketamine and the police shooting death of a black man in north Minneapolis. In addition, another council member introduced a proposal that would allow council members to share authority over the police with the mayor.
Admittedly, the records reviewed are a snapshot of six months. Council members serve for four years, so their full-term attendance should be considered. And no one insists perfect attendance for all must be the rule. Unexpected conflicts arise — illnesses, family emergencies, deaths. There is also value in attending some work-related out-of-town or outstate meetings.
The $98,695-per-year job of a council member involves more than City Hall meetings — members should be judged based on constituent services, leadership and ability to advance good policy. And of course, elected officials deserve vacation, too.
Still, the council as a body has considerable control over its meeting schedule. The council can opt to skip meetings or adjust dates around major holidays and plan time off accordingly. Most important, council members and other elected officials must make meetings a priority because that’s where they debate issues, engage with constituents, craft and set policy, and take important votes in public view.
Citizens who put their faith and tax dollars into elected officials’ hands expect to be well-represented — and that starts with having their representatives show up.