Work travel keeps Barbara Derus from many Three Rivers meetings.
At a Three Rivers Park District Board meeting earlier this month, six of the seven commissioners were present.
Commissioner Barbara Derus was not.
It was the fourth consecutive meeting Derus had missed, and Commissioner Joan Peters could hold her tongue no longer.
"Once again we have an absence on our board," she said.
Board Chairman Larry Blackstad interrupted, explained that Derus had called to say that she was delayed in a New York airport and tried to downplay the situation.
But Peters had a point.
A Star Tribune review of Three Rivers meeting minutes shows that Derus missed 14 of 22 meetings during the past 12 months and 31 of 77 meetings since the Hennepin County Board appointed her to the job on Feb. 24, 2009.
When asked about her attendance record in an interview, Derus said that she has decided not to seek reappointment to the board, which has a nearly $50 million annual budget. Commissioners are paid $927 per month, except for the board chairman, who receives $978.50 per month.
"I don't have time for it," she said. "It's not fair to the park board or to myself if I can't attend."
Derus, the daughter of former Hennepin County Commissioner John Derus, said her attendance was regular at first but became more challenging when she changed jobs. "I travel extensively for my job, and that wasn't so when I started on the board," she said. "I also got divorced, so I have a lot of time now with my kids on my own."
Derus is the director of global transfer pricing for Ecolab, part of its corporate tax department. The job requires frequent travel to Europe, she said, often with little advance warning.
'Wish I could make time for it'
The Three Rivers board has a low profile, but its commissioners have large responsibilities.
The expanding park system manages almost 27,000 acres, mostly in western Hennepin County, with hundreds of miles of trails and about 21 park reserves, regional parks and special-use facilities. It served more than 9 million visitors last year, and its 2012 operating budget is more than $47 million.
The board has five commissioners elected from districts in suburban Hennepin County and two appointed by the Hennepin County Board. Barbara Derus is one of the appointees; her term expires Dec. 31.
Derus said she has notified Blackstad and Hennepin County Board Chairman Mike Opat that she is not going to seek reappointment.
"I wish I could make time for it, but it's just very difficult," she said.
Blackstad said that Derus' absences have not affected the board in terms of its workload.
"We've accomplished all of our work," he said.
Other Three Rivers commissioners had good attendance records, missing between one and four meetings during the past 12 months. The board typically convenes twice a month for board meetings or workshops.
Six more months on the job
Some boards have rules that require members to step down if they miss too many meetings, but not Three Rivers.
Its rules say "commissioners absent from three consecutive meetings are requested to report to the board reasons for such absences and let it be known to the board whether or not they wish to continue to serve on the board."
Blackstad said he met with Derus last winter to discuss her attendance at meetings. He did not ask her to resign.
"There is no provision in our rules for asking somebody to leave," he said.
Derus said she thought about resigning but felt she should fulfill her commitment and try to make most of the meetings.
"I think I'm going to be able to make a board meeting, and then I can't," she said.
Blackstad said Derus has been diligent about informing him ahead of time if she's going to miss a meeting.
Blackstad said that even if Derus were to resign now, with six months remaining in her term, it would probably take most of that time for Hennepin County commissioners to open the appointments process, interview candidates and choose a successor.
"If she did something right now, the seat would still probably remain vacant until December," he said. "It probably isn't going to make much difference, serving out the term or resigning."
Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388