By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – City Council members scored near-perfect attendance records since their terms began three years ago this month, with most making a majority of the 73 official meetings in that time.
Two members – Markel Whittington and Fred Pitts, of Wards 1 and 2, respectively – appeared at every council session.
Ward 5 Councilman Jonny Davis attended all but two. Jim Newell, Nettie Davis and Willie Jennings – of Wards 3, 4 and 7, respectively – missed three meetings apiece.
The greatest number of absences belongs to Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan, who missed six meetings for an overall attendance record of 92 percent.
That’s a total of 17 absences among the seven members for an average, individual attendance record of 97 percent. As a whole, the group achieved perfect attendance at 58 meetings – 80 percent.
Data comes from City Council minutes compiled by Council Clerk Glenda Muse. Minutes are available for public viewing online and at City Hall.
“I have nothing to compare it to from previous times, but overall, I think we’ve had good attendance at council meetings,” said Pitts, a first-time council member who also serves as the group’s president.
Most absences arise from “legitimate” reasons, Pitts said. Council members interviewed by the Daily Journal listed several: deaths in the family, family illnesses, personal illnesses, work obligations and fulfilling other duties in the official capacity of a City Council member, such as attending Mississippi Municipal League board meetings.
Some council members also missed sessions due to family vacations.
Bryan said at least one or two of his six absences fell under this category. Newell said all three of his coincided with out-of-town leisure.
“We’ve all had good attendance,” Newell said. “I miss very few work sessions, too.”
In addition to the twice-monthly council meetings aired live on Comcast, the group also has four unofficial monthly meetings: two agenda-review huddles the day before each council meeting and two work sessions to mull long-range or in-depth issues.
Each member’s presence is strongly encouraged at all unofficial gatherings, as well, and most council members do manage to make each one. Attendance isn’t recorded, so participation data is not logged.
Whittington said he attends all meetings because taxpayers expect it.
Council members in Tupelo earn $16,932 annually with an additional stipend for the president.
State law defines the duties and responsibilities of City Council members – even setting the minimum number of monthly meetings – but it makes no mention of required attendance at any such functions. But, “it is assumed when you’re elected and you take an oath that you will serve in a position … it means attending as many meetings as possible,” said longtime city attorney Guy Mitchell. “Obviously, you can’t attend all.”
In the nearly four decades that Mitchell served as the council’s legal adviser, he said, he can’t recall any member having racked up excessive absences. Even those members who had lost influence with their peers over the course of a term continued to attend regularly, he said.
“We’re extremely fortunate to have very conscientious local officials,” he said. “I started doing this in 1974. In those 38 years, I don’t recall anyone who was derelict in attending to their official duties.”