This week, Kankakee County Board members raised the issue of of their absent colleagues. Some are missing quite a few meetings.
If board members are absent, they are depriving their constituents of representation. Health reasons are understandable, but many other justifications fall short.
Here are three takeaways on County Board members’ absenteeism:
• Gone a lot. The worst offender is Stephen Einfeldt, R-Bourbonnais. He has missed more than three-quarters of meetings in the past year. According to meeting minutes, Einfeldt, who decided against running for re-election, last attended a meeting in November.
In the first two years of his current term, though, he showed up for every regular meeting. After that, his attendance fell off.
Things change in life, but when they do, we should re-assess whether we can continue in certain roles.
When I asked Einfeldt why he has been gone so much, he gave me a two-word answer, “Been busy.” If that’s the case, he should step aside, and let someone else represent his 4,000 constituents in District 22.
• Blending into crowd. In Illinois, our county boards are the some of the biggest in the country. This allows people such as Einfeldt to miss meeting after meeting without others taking notice.
A few years ago, when I was covering the Whiteside County Board, one of the members greeted me before a meeting. I didn’t recognize him, so I asked four others who he was. No one knew.
If the board members themselves don’t know their colleagues, how can we expect constituents to keep track? A smaller board might usher in greater accountability.
• Timing of meetings. Board member Jim Skutt, R-Bourbonnais, has missed more than two-thirds of meetings in the past year. He said he is resigning because life changed since he joined the board in 2010 — he and his wife started a family, and he got a new job that requires a lot of travel.
Another reason for missing meetings, Skutt said, was it was hard to make the board’s daytime meetings, which start at 9 a.m. I have yet to come across a school board or city council that regularly meets during the day, but plenty of county boards do.
It makes sense to hold public meetings at night, when most people are off from work.
Asked by the Daily Journal last year about changing to night meetings, Chairman Andy Wheeler said, “I’m not opposed to it, but it is not easy to do, and there is a cost. If we are going to do it, we have to do it methodically, not by just flipping a switch.”
He’s right about the costs, especially with the overtime for employees who are required to be on hand at meetings.
As with everything, there are costs and benefits. In this case, the benefit might be a more diverse board, with more working people and fewer retirees. Skutt is among the younger board members, if not the youngest. He has a perspective the board might not want to lose.