LAKEWOOD – The goal of a proposed ordinance that could have led to the removal of elected village officials – for poor attendance at public meetings – was intended to improve accountability, Lakewood Village President Paul Serwatka said.
But the attempt “failed miserably” when the ordinance was put up for a vote Tuesday, he said. It received one “yes” vote and five “no” votes.
“I thought it was a slam dunk,” Serwatka said. “I’m beyond disappointed.”
The ordinance, regarding “abandonment of office,” states “failure of an elected municipal officer to attend three consecutive, regular meetings or five regular meetings within a 12 consecutive month period creates the presumption of abandonment of the office occupied by that individual.”
If either threshold were to be reached, the board could hold a hearing to evaluate whether there were extenuating circumstances that caused the absences, or if the official simply didn’t want to show up.
The rest of the board could then decide if the person abandoned the office, and potentially remove them from the board.
Two of the three current trustees who ran in the spring election on Serwatka’s Lakewood Tax-Fighter slate, Richard Ritchie and Amy Fues Odom, did not support the ordinance. The other slate partner, Phillip Stephan, supported the ordinance with the only “yes” vote.
Patrick Rexroat, who was appointed June 13 to the board by Serwatka, voted against it.
Two other trustees, Carl Davis and Jason McMahon, also voted against the measure. According to Village Board meeting minutes, both have missed four of nine bimonthly Village Board meetings since the first meeting of the new board on May 23.
Tuesday was the first time since May 23 in which the entire Lakewood Village Board attended a regular, bimonthly meeting, meeting minutes show.
“We’ve had some excessive absences by a couple of our trustees,” Serwatka said. “One trustee missed three consecutive meetings. That’s six weeks not hearing from the guy.”
McMahon was absent from three straight bimonthly meetings. Ritchie was absent from two of nine, and Odom was absent from one of the nine meetings. Stephan and Rexroat have attended each of the nine meetings, minutes show.
Davis said he has taken on more responsibilities at work that have led to absences in recent months, but added the number is on par with what he usually misses in a year because of work and vacations. He said he works hard to not miss meetings.
“The important work of trustees doesn’t just happen at meetings,” Davis said. “I prepare for all meetings whether I can be there or not. I discuss matters with residents and trustees [outside of meetings].”
Davis said the ordinance would have “created a tribunal of remaining board members.”
“The board would decide whether to oust a trustee. It leaves the board with the opportunity to eliminate the opposition,” Davis said. “It’s not fair to residents.”
A call to McMahon was not returned.
Ritchie, according to Serwatka, said it’s likely he could miss several meetings a year because of work, so he voted against it. Davis said it’s not uncommon that trustees miss meetings. But he said it wasn’t an issue before now.
So Serwatka said he asked the board – at what point does it become an issue?
“I asked for a number they’re comfortable with,” he said. “Is it eight meetings? 10? 12? At what point should we address this? There’s no number they wanted to give.”
Serwatka said a couple of meetings almost were canceled because of not having a quorum. He said it’d be hard to find an employer that would be alright with a 22 percent absentee rate, and in this case, the taxpayers are the employers.
Serwatka said he likely will put the question out to residents in a newsletter. If they don’t care, he’ll leave it alone. If they do care and want a certain standard of attendance to be met, he will bring it back for discussion.