Councilmen Address Absences

WINNSBORO – When County Council enacted amendments to their bylaws last month, their failure to install any meaningful attendance policy sent ripples of anger through the audience at the Nov. 18 special called meeting and again cast the spotlight on the recent attendance record of Councilman Mikel Trapp (District 3). All summer, citizens have questioned Trapp’s attendance record during Council’s public comments segment of regular meetings, and on Nov. 18 as Council was poised to vote on the amended bylaws, one member of the public, Beth Jenkins, vehemently expressed her disapproval of the weak attendance policy. So enthusiastic was her expression, Jenkins was, in fact, asked to withdraw from chambers, but not before she suggested that Council could enact a pay-by-attendance policy.

After Jenkins had vacated Council chambers on Nov. 18, interim County Administrator Milton Pope addressed her suggestion, telling those who remained that such a policy was “not enforceable by law.” However, Scott Slaton, Legislative and Public Policy Advocate with the S.C. Municipal Association, later told The Voice that Council could, in fact, enact a ‘paid for attendance’ ordinance if they so wished.

“There’s nothing in state law that prohibits a city council from using a pay for attendance system,” Slaton said.

At least two S.C. towns – Heath Springs (in Lancaster County) and Furman (in Hampton County) – have done just that. While The Voice has been unable to reach the Town of Furman for details of how their policy was enacted and whether or not it has been challenged, a spokesperson with Heath Springs said their policy has been in place for nearly a year, has been well received by the public and has met with no legal challenges. Heath Springs Council members were, prior to the revised policy, paid an annual sum of $1,300, whether they attended meetings or not. Under the current policy, that $1,300 was divided by their 12 yearly meetings and Council members are paid $108.33 per meeting only if they attend.

While Fairfield County Council’s new bylaws only encourage attendance and ask that members unable to attend a meeting notify the clerk to council in advance, the criticism of Trapp’s attendance only continues.

At press time, County Council had convened for 48 total meetings, including regular meetings, work sessions, special called meetings and budget sessions. Of those, Trapp has missed a total of 24 meetings. He has missed nine regular meetings, eight special meetings, four work sessions and all three of Council’s budget sessions. Ten of Trapp’s absences came between Jan. 14 and July 24. The rest have accumulated since Aug. 14, when Trapp said he began taking an evening course as part of his business classes at Columbia College. On Dec. 13, that class ended, Trapp said this week, and he expects to be back on a regular schedule with Monday night’s meeting. In 2012, Trapp missed only 12 of Council’s 35 meetings.

A 49th meeting was scheduled for Monday night, after The Voice went to press. Trapp said he would be attending that meeting.

Trapp also said criticism of his attendance is coming largely from outside his district and that he has received “overwhelming support” from those living within District 3.

“The People who are complaining are not from District 3,” Trapp said, “except for one person, so I don’t pay any attention to it. I am employed by District 3 residents, so what District 2 or District 4 residents say about me doesn’t matter.”

Winnsboro Town Council, meanwhile, has often met in 2013 without its full complement of members. Council has held 24 regular meetings this year, as well as 11 finance meetings and three work sessions, for a total of 38 meetings. Of those, Councilman Danny Miller (District 1) has missed 24. Miller, who has served on Council for 18 years and has two years left on his current term, said that over his entire tenure his attendance has been quite good. In recent years, however, his job as Director of Transportation for the Fairfield County School District has impeded his ability to attend every meeting, he said.

“If you look at all 18 years, you’ll see I probably have about a 90 percent attendance rate,” Miller said. “One year I had perfect attendance. My first priority is my primary job, getting kids to school safely and getting them home safely. I have an obligation to the District that requires me to work late at night sometimes. I’m not just playing hooky.”

Miller said that when he does miss meetings, he is still kept in the loop on Town business by Town Manager Don Wood. And, Miller said, Winnsboro is in good hands.

“We have a good mayor and a good council,” Miller said. “I know if we have a problem and if I’m not there, I’m confident business is being run properly.”

Comments

  1. Whom does Trapp think pays his salary? His money does not come from his district alone. Does he not realize he speaks for the entire county. He really needs EDUCATION not schooling.

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