McMinnville officials are considering a measure to link attendance to salary, but the effort might not be as easy as initially thought.
Finance Committee chairman Ken Smith called a meeting to discuss with fellow members, Alderman Mike Neal and Vice Mayor Ben Newman, how to prevent an abuse of office by missing meetings and continuing to get paid $400 a month – a situation that occurred with the prior board.
“I think we have had some irregularity that, to the best of my knowledge, has taken place in the city in that we didn’t have proper attendance by an individual who actually was living out of town and would come in from time to time,” Smith said. “As I understand, they missed most of the meetings. As a citizen that bothers me.”
Smith says officials are fiduciaries, a person legally appointed and authorized to hold assets in trust for another person or manage the assets for the benefit of another person rather than for his or her own profit, much the same as a banker.
“If you are on the board of Security Federal and you miss 25 percent of the board meetings, then you are not paid,” Smith said. “I understand if you are on the board at First National and you miss a meeting, you are not paid.”
Federal regulators require that bank board members make at least 75 percent of their meetings or they must step down. However, state law regarding elected officials is different in that as long as the individual meets the residency requirement they cannot be asked to step down.
“We have ousting provisions, but they are criminal in nature,” said city administrator David Rutherford. “Some states have recall procedure that if you do A, B, and C, you can be voted out of office.”
Smith suggested limiting the number of unexcused absences to 25 percent, or six meetings, that an alderman can miss without suffering a loss in salary, with a caveat that the board can decide if any absences after those will be considered medically excused and salary given.
The scenario takes board members back to school on absenteeism.
“I think all of us know what’s going to happen,” said Smith. “It’s kind of like being in school and having to bring a note from the doctor. It’s a shame we have to even think about this, but obviously our taxpayers dollars went for something they shouldn’t have gone for.”
Neal questioned why committee meetings were not included in the requirement to attend, to which Smith replied, “As I understand it, there is no pay for committee meetings.”
According to Rutherford, aldermen are compensated with a flat fee of $400 a month, but the amount is not connected to either board meetings or committee meetings.
State law gives two options for paying elected officials — compensate members for the board meetings and committee meetings they attend, or set a flat fee without regard to attendance.
The city’s municipal charter does not provide for an aldermen’s salary to be linked to attendance, but that can be changed, says Pirtle.
“I cannot locate any legal obstacle that would preclude the city of McMinnville from adopting a similar scheme for compensation,” he said. “The only restriction would be when the change would take place. Changes to the current scheme for compensation would have to be made with the adoption of the next annual budget.”
By state law, an alderman’s salary can only be changed with the adoption of an annual budget. Any changes made now cannot go into effect before the passing of the 2013-14 budget in 2013.
Pirtle warned officials about the possibility of violating laws pertaining to medical information if they move forward with Smith’s suggestion of adding a medical caveat to missing more than six meetings.
“There is an element of confidentiality that might present itself. Medical information that is made known to the management of the city is strictly privileged information and prohibited from public dissemination as a matter of law,” Pirtle said.
While Smith says board members can avoid talking about the specific illness, Pirtle says that may not be enough.
“Unfortunately, federal law goes far beyond that distinction,” Pirtle said. “You are really, really, really handcuffed on the release of any information. That’s a law that has to be stringently applied. It protects even against the appearance of public dissemination.”
Pirtle suggested city officials consider an automatic forfeiture of salary after the 25 percent mark has been reached, unless the board feels the need to restore salary without requiring the disclosure of medical information.
“You can, perhaps, channel the information through the city’s human resource officer so the information never becomes part of public record,” said Pirtle. “HR can make some recommendation without compromising confidential privilege.”
Alderman Rick Barnes suggested the committee consider an easier way to link salary to attendance by doing just that.
“We have two meetings a month,” said Barnes. “If you are here for both meetings, you get $400. If you miss one meeting, you get $200. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or not. It’s real simple.”
After considering it, Smith agreed with Barnes about the simplicity of his idea and Rutherford encouraged Smith to go that route.
“Mr. Chairman, I understand what you are trying to do as a committee but it is becoming more and more convoluted as you talk about it,” said Rutherford. “I think we can restructure the ordinance to say you get a maximum of $400 a month, $200 per meeting. Failure to attend a meeting will result in forfeiture of $200. It’s plain and simple.”
Smith tabled the measured for later consideration. Newman was absent.