Decatur Councilman Chuck Ard proposed Tuesday punishing council members who miss multiple meetings a month by taking a portion of their pay, a proposal that did not sit well with Councilman Billy Jackson.

Ard, who is not seeking reelection as the District 5 councilman, added the amendment to a proposed ordinance setting the pay for the mayor and City Council in the next term. Ard's amendment could reduce members' pay by $600 or more per month for excessive absences. 

Ard said the proposal isn’t targeted at any fellow council member. The proposal is part of an ordinance, and Tuesday’s meeting was the first reading. The ordinance is scheduled to come to a vote Feb. 10.

However, Jackson said after the meeting, “Of course this is targeting me.” His policy, he said, is to attend work sessions only when there’s an important issue on the agenda.

“I’m not doing this for the money, so I’m not willing to play their games,” said Jackson, the only council member to announce so far he is seeking reelection.

Under the new ordinance, a council member would be penalized $200 for each absence in a month if he or she misses three or more scheduled work sessions or meetings. The council member would not be punished because of hospitalization or the recovery period from a hospitalization.

Qualifying for the 2020 municipal elections is July 7-21. The election is Aug. 25 and the new mayor and City Council take office Nov. 7. The last day to register to vote is Aug. 10.

“It’s important that council members attend work sessions as well as City Council meetings,” Ard said. “And this is the only time this could be introduced.”

City Council President Paige Bibbee said she thinks Ard has made a good proposal.

“Our constituents elect us to represent them at those meetings,” Bibbee said. “We should be there.”

Ard said he believes it should be easy to meet the attendance requirement.

“It’s not a difficult requirement,” Ard said.

Jackson said he set up the current meeting format when he was council president in 2004. Previously, the council held a one-hour work session before the council meeting, and this allowed for little council review or public input, he said.

He said he set up a format in which the agenda is sent out 10 days before the business meeting. The council holds a work session to review the agenda and consider any other issues a week before the meeting. The council also holds a brief work session before the meeting to find out if anything changed in the last week.

Jackson said he held the work sessions at 6 p.m. so the public could attend, but subsequent councils moved the sessions to 5:30 and then to 5 “when the public can’t attend.”

Now council members, the mayor, a newspaper reporter and city employees are usually the only people in attendance at work sessions, Jackson said.

“I’m self-employed, and these meetings interfere with me trying to provide for my family,” Jackson said. “I can pick up the phone and call a department head and get the information I need.”

Bibbee said the council followed Jackson’s suggestion at the start of this term and held its work sessions at 6 p.m., but the same people attended the meetings.

Jackson said the council majority — Bibbee, Kristi Hill and Ard — is making decisions without input from him and Councilman Charles Kirby. He accused them of trying to arrange meetings so they always have the quorum majority.

“They don’t want me here,” Jackson said. “These penalties are just punitive in nature.”

Bibbee denied his accusation about arranging meetings for a quorum. Referring to a meeting that had to be canceled for lack of a quorum last month, she said she tried to get input by email from all of the council, but Jackson and Kirby never responded.

Kirby and Hill said they have a lot of questions about Ard’s proposal, especially regarding what absences are excused from the penalty provision.

“Do I have to be in the hospital or out recovering?” Kirby said. “What if I’m sick, like I have been for the last week, or what if I have a funeral? Will I need a doctor’s excuse?”

The mayor’s annual salary would stay at $106,631, and council members will continue to make $15,994.65. The council president receives 2% more for taking on the additional duties.

The proposed ordinance includes a $475 per month car allowance for the mayor, which Jackson said he opposes because he views it as a salary increase.

The only mayoral candidate to announce so far, Bowling said he’s OK with not getting a salary increase next term.

“I’m not asking for a raise,” Bowling said.

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