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Local

County no-shows could make difference

Some members have multiple absences

La Salle County Board member Randy Freeman, R-Lostant, missed eight of 15 board meetings this year, the highest number of absences of any member. He said he was gone so often because his work schedule changed.
La Salle County Board member Randy Freeman, R-Lostant, missed eight of 15 board meetings this year, the highest number of absences of any member. He said he was gone so often because his work schedule changed.

Two weeks ago, the La Salle County Board voted 14-9 for an annual budget that included a 6 percent increase in salary spending.

It was a lopsided tally, but it may have been closer if everyone showed up.

Six members — five Republicans, one Democrat — missed the meeting.

Of the budget dissenters, eight were Republican. If the no-shows had joined them, the dissenters would have prevailed.

The Times analyzed the 2017 attendance records for County Board's 29 members. The board met 15 times this year. Seven members had perfect attendance.

Members get paid $60 per meeting they attend. They have been paid the same rate for more than two decades.

In 2015 and 2016, an average of three members were missing each meeting. In 28 meetings in those two years, the board had perfect attendance just once — July 2015.

In 2017, the average of missing members increased to 3.5. At least one member was absent from each meeting.

At the Feb. 9 meeting, eight members were recorded as absent during roll call. But as with most meetings, some members quietly leave later in the proceedings. For much of the Feb. 9 session, 10 members — or more than a third of the board — were absent.

In Northern Illinois, county boards are among the largest in the country. Members can skip meetings and hardly be missed.

A few years ago in Lee County, a member missed more than two years of meetings before her term expired. She suffered health issues, but never resigned from the board. At the time, the board had 28 members.

It's more apparent when members of smaller public bodies are no-shows. For example, attendance is not as much of an issue with the Ottawa and Streator city councils.

In 2017, the Ottawa City Council met 26 times through November. In 18 of those meetings, the mayor and all four council members attended. In seven of the others, one member was missing, while in one, two were gone.

The Streator City Council this year had perfect attendance at all but two of the 18 meetings with minutes posted online.

On the La Salle County Board, the member with the most absences this year was Randy Freeman, R-Lostant, who unsuccessfully ran for County Board chairman in 2008. He missed eight of 15 meetings.

Freeman, who works in construction with the Illinois Department of Transportation, said his work schedule changed this year. He said he'll be able to attend more meetings in the winter.

Members Tom Thrush, D-Ottawa, and Ernest "Mike" Weiss, R-Ottawa, both missed five, or a third, of the 15 meetings this year.

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