Three Rivers Park Board is getting tough on attendance

  • Article by: TOM MEERSMAN
  • Star Tribune
  • January 22, 2013 - 5:30 PM

Three strikes and you're docked.

That's the essence of a new attendance policy that Three Rivers Park District commissioners proposed for themselves last week.

Under the policy, commissioners who miss three monthly board meetings in a year would forfeit pay for those months.

Each receives $927 per month for serving on the board, except for the chair who receives $978.50 per month.

The need for a tougher policy arose because a former board member missed numerous meetings during the past several years yet continued to collect her monthly checks. She resigned after the problem was brought to light.

The discussion about attendance came at the first meeting for four new commissioners elected in November to serve on the seven-member board.

Commissioner Penny Steele raised the issue as board members revised the rules under which they operate.

Steele said there should be some penalty if commissioners skip too many meetings.

"It puts some teeth into the idea for someone who is not attending," she said.

Commissioner Larry Blackstad, the longest-serving board member, said it's rare for commissioners to miss many meetings, but he agreed that a stronger rule was justified.

Many absences

Blackstad was board chairman last year when poor attendance by then-Commissioner Barbara Derus became an issue.

A Star Tribune analysis showed that Derus missed 14 of 22 board meetings in the 12-month period that ended in June. She resigned the same day a story was published about the matter.

At the time, Derus said in an interview that she missed the meetings because a recent divorce and new job drastically changed her schedule and the amount of time she had available to serve on the board. She had been appointed as commissioner in early 2009 and missed 33 of 77 meetings during her tenure.

The Derus resignation in early July created a vacancy that was not filled because her four-year term was set to expire at the end of 2012. A new appointment is expected from the Hennepin County Board within the next few weeks. The Three Rivers Board has five elected and two appointed commissioners.

Blackstad said that as board chairman while Derus was missing meetings, he had little guidance under previous board rules to deal with the issue.

Those rules stated that "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."

Pay would be forfeited

The proposed new policy requires that commissioners forfeit their monthly stipend for three months as soon as they miss three monthly board meetings. If "extenuating circumstances" such as illness were part of the problem, the commissioner can appeal to the board, which may "reverse a loss of compensation and shall state the reasons for its decision."

The attendance policy would apply only to regular board meetings where final decisions are made -- generally scheduled on the third Thursday each month -- and not to less formal committee meetings and workshops held on different days.

It is technically a draft policy until the board officially adopts all of the revised rules next month.

Tom Meersman • 612-673-7388

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