Walla Walla City Council should adopt attendance policy

Council member Shane Laib has taken a temporary job in Olympia, which triggered concern and debate about missing meetings.

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The Walla Walla City Council would be wise to adopt a policy outlining appropriate reasons for Council members to miss meetings.

This could help the Council navigate a tricky issue that’s surfaced.

This week three of the seven Walla Walla City Council members were absent, and those absences were ruled unexcused. Having three Council members miss the same meeting is not a crisis, but it was the tipping point in a series of absences that were too much for Council member Barbara Clark.

The absences of Council members Jerry Cummins and Conrado Cavazos were not of particular concern as their regular attendance has not been a problem.

But Council member Shane Laib has now missed two regularly scheduled Council meetings and is expected to miss a lot more until the state Legislature adjourns sometime this spring. Laib has taken a temporary job with Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, that will keep him in the capital in Olympia.

Laib told his fellow Council members of his plans in January. At the time the Council discussed whether it was appropriate to miss three months of meetings.

Laib missed one meeting before this Wednesday, which his colleagues excused.

This week’s triple no-show prompted the Council to not excuse the absences of the three missing members and for Clark to ask that guidelines for absences be established.

Establishing guidelines simply makes sense. It should make the discussion of Council members’ absences more focused.

However, guidelines won’t magically provide an easy answer to all concerns regarding absences.

That decision is left to the judgment of the other Council members and, ultimately, the voters. State law gives the Council power to excuse members and vote them off the Council if three consecutive meetings are missed with unexcused absences.

A Walla Walla city policy or guideline is merely a recommendation. The Council can’t change state law.

If, for example, the guidelines accepted vacations as a valid excuse and Council members did not agree — for whatever reason — they don’t have to follow the guideline.

Guidelines are nevertheless useful because they would establish the accepted view of what is and isn’t appropriate. A policy would provide Council members a strong foundation for their decisions and it would provide perspective for voters at election time.

It’s possible, if not likely, Laib’s job issue could be settled before guidelines are adopted.

Laib has been a solid Council member with many years of service. He has been upfront about his status for the next three months. Laib and his fellow Council members should probably hash this out at a public meeting if Laib decides he wants to retain his Council seat.

Whatever happens in this specific case, the Council should adopt guidelines so future concerns about attendance can be avoided or handled swiftly.

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