When a government committee met to try to sort out the bureaucratic mess surrounding New Haven’s car taxes, Dixwell Alderman Greg Morehead’s chair was empty—as it was 44 out of 51 times he had committee meetings to attend so far this term.
He hasn’t been the only alderman missing in action from meetings.
Since the current term began in January 2010, Six aldermen—Morehead, Dwight’s Gina Calder, Alex Rhodeen of Fair Haven Heights, Fair Haven’s Joey Rodriguez, Alfreda Edwards of Newhallville, and the Hill’s Jacqueline James-Evans—have all missed over 50 percent of their assigned committee meetings, where the nitty-gritty work of the legislative branch of government gets done.
Some, like James-Evans, had health emergencies. Rhodeen and Rodriguez were busy with work, Morehead with church and a family illness. Calder couldn’t be reached for an explanation—while her attendance continues to drop in 2011.
Other aldermen boast perfect or near perfect attendance records. Aldermen Jorge Perez and Tom Lehtonen are the only two lawmakers who have not missed a single committee meeting this term. Perez also hasn’t missed a single meeting of the full board this term. He shares that honor with Aldermen Matt Smith, Al Paolillo, and Darnell Goldson. Alderman Justin Elicker, who has the highest load of assigned committee meetings, made it to all but one of his 37 meetings in 2010.
Those figures emerged from an analysis of aldermanic attendance records from 2010 and 2011, records which Morehead for one, disputed.
Click here to download a six-sheet spreadsheet with all the numbers (updated 2:33 p.m. Tuesday with a minor methodological correction and a new “rank” column, thanks to a hawk-eyed reader).
The tabulations do not include attendance at special meetings of the “committee of the whole.” That’s the group that meets as needed to discuss pressing special issues, as decided by board President Carl Goldfield.
Several names emerge from the statistics as the most truant among aldermen:
• Not only did Alderwoman Calder miss all six of her 2010 committee meetings; she also missed all three of her committee meetings in 2011. That means she did not attend a single committee meeting in 18 months.
Calder will step down from her seat July 1. She did not return a call for comment.
• Alderman Rhodeen attended fewer than 40 percent of his committee meetings in 2010 and fewer than 30 percent of his committee meetings so far in 2011. He’s at the bottom of the list for full-board meetings, attending only 64 percent this term.
Reached by phone from Rochester, N.Y., on Friday, Rhodeen said all of his absences are due to work or military obligations. Rhodeen is in the army reserves and has to attend mandatory training three weeks a year, he said. He’s also in charge of sales and marketing for LoveSac, an “alternative furniture” company. He said he was in Rochester to help open the company’s 43rd store.
Rhodeen said his business and business-travel experience, while it takes him away from meetings at times, gives him an important perspective to add to the board. The alternative is to have a board comprising only retirees, or people who never leave New Haven, he said.
Even with his busy schedule, it’s very easy for him to stay in touch with his constituents via cell phone and email, Rhodeen claimed.
• Alderwoman Edwards has the worst attendance record for full board meetings. She’s made it to only 59 percent of them so far this term.
In 2010, she made it to only four of her 16 assigned committee meetings. In 2011, her committee attendance has improved. She’s made it to four of five so far this year.
Alderwoman Edwards could not be reached for comment.
• Fair Haven Alderman Joey Rodriguez, who will step down after this term, made it to only four of 22 committee meetings in 2010 and five of 11 in 2011, for a committee-attendance rate of only 27 percent so far this term.
Rodriguez said the committee meetings have simply conflicted with his work schedule. He said he nevertheless always makes sure to review the material covered in committee before full board votes. He said his ongoing time constraints are one of the reasons he’s not running for reelection.
• Alderman Morehead has perhaps the most striking record of absences from committee meetings. While Alderwoman Calder has the worst attendance rate, at 0 percent, Morehead is right behind her, at 14 percent. He has missed the most committee meetings overall, attending just seven of 51 this term.
It’s a record that Morehead disputes, and one that changed slightly after he visited the Office of Legislative Services on Friday upon hearing from the Independent. The numbers out of that office initially showed that he had made it to only one of 41 committee meetings in 2010. But after he personally re-tallied the records with staff, the number rose to four out of 40 meetings.
Morehead said that’s not right either. He said he made more like six committee meetings in 2010. He said he also tried to be removed from the Finance Committee, because he couldn’t make the 18 meetings held in 2010, so those shouldn’t be held against him, he argued.
As for missing his other meetings, Morehead said they usually fall on Tuesdays and Thursdays, when he has church services that he attends.
Morehead said he makes sure to attend meetings of the full board; he showed up at 91 percent of them in 2010. In 2011, that number dropped to 67 percent. He’s been dealing with some family health issues, he explained.
He said that despite his committee attendance record, “I’ve never had a delayed response with my constituents ... I never miss a beat.” He said he’s in good contact with his constituents and informs them of what’s happening in City Hall.
• Hill Alderwoman James-Evans made it to only 23 percent of committee meetings and 55 percent of full board meetings in 2010. Her absences were due to health complications associated with the birth of her baby daughter, who came two months early. James-Evans said she was on doctor-ordered bed rest and ended up getting an E. coli infection after giving birth, followed by blood transfusions. Nevertheless, she was working the phones and handling constituent calls through it all, even during labor, she said.
James-Evans’ attendance has risen in 2011. She’s made it to three of five committee meetings and 83 percent of full board meetings this year.
At the other end of the spectrum, Alderman Perez has the best overall attendance record. He has not missed a single committee or full board meeting so far this term.
Several aldermen posted 100 percent attendance records for 2010 committee meetings: Aldermen Perez, Smith, Maureen O’Sullivan-Best, Migdalia Castro, Al Paolillo, and Lehtonen. So far in 2011, perfect scores for committee meeting attendance go to Aldermen Perez, Bitsie Clark, Lehtonen, Michael Smart, and Goldson.
All full-board meetings in 2010 were attended by Aldermen Jorge Perez, Elicker, Antunes, Paolillo, Dildine, and Goldson. So far in 2011, Aldermen Perez, Dolores Colon, Clark, Smart, Smith, Maureen O’Sullivan-Best, Castro, Paolillo, Charles Blango, Claudette Robinson-Thorpe, and Goldson have perfect attendance records for full board meetings.
Alderman Elicker has attended a whopping 58 committee meetings so far this term, more than any of his colleagues. That’s out of 63 he was assigned, a 92 percent attendance rate. He also attends monthly City Plan Commission meetings as the aldermanic representative.
Reached by phone on Friday, Elicker was, ironically, taking a break in Lake Tahoe. He said he and his girlfriend were just emerging from three days hiking in the woods, part of an eight-day vacation—one that caused him to miss Wednesday’s committee-of-the-whole meeting.
On the issue of aldermanic attendance, Elicker said, “Obviously it’s really important. You make a commitment to your constituents to show up to as many meetings as possible.”
He said he it’s difficult to make it to all the meetings. “But I’m really passionate about it,” he said. “There’s no secret. You just show up.”
Unfortunately, the record and this article doesn’t tell the full story. 1. I have checking OLS check the record again, the claim is that I missed 1 committee meeting in 2010, I’m almost sure that is incorrect.
2. It also doesn’t take into account the other meetings alds attend. I attended almost all of the Finance as well as the Tax Abatement committee meetings, even though that will not be reflected in the official record.
3. Smith is listed as attended 100% of committee meetings in 2010, even though he only began to serve in mid November, and wasn’t assigned to committees until December, the end of the year.
posted by: Cedarhillresident on June 28, 2011 12:06pm
note…..and even though Elicker was hiking in Tahoe, he still responded to my emails about a an issue neighbors were asking me about! Justin rocks :) Although I am still waiting on who is in charge of deer heads being dumped??
This is shameful!! Don’t run if you can not be at these meetings! Simple. But I do understand that life can hit you from behind.
Darnell, you rock to. I see you at everything! You go above and beyond what your position requires. As do the other alders that were mentioned.
posted by: Steve B on June 28, 2011 12:28pm
NHI: Please publish the whole list. I’d like to know what Stephanie Bauer has been up to for the last two years since she’s never responded to the many emails I’ve sent, and her name rarely appears in coverage of Aldermanic affairs. Oh, and she’s running for reelection.
[Ed.: There’s a link to the stats in the story. Also here.]
Any Alder person attending only 27 to 80% of assigned committee meetings is an Alderman who is most assuredly not interested in fulfilling their responsibility to the city, and to their constituents. Therefore that person should resign by default immediately. Alderman are not elected to NOT be present and vote.
On the other hand; The aldermanic rules as they currently exist is designed to frustrate and confuse, there are too many redundant committees and too many hapless alders. Simply attending 100% of all committee meetings does not guarantee that the taxpayers business is being fairly aired and legislated, to the contrary, all of the committee Chairman are hand picked by the Board President Goldfield based on their loyalties. Their actions regarding matters before that committee are many times predetermined.
Case in point, during the recent final board vote on the 2011 budget, Goldfield instructed alders not to vote on any budget admendments which are offered .
Once decided at the committee level the remaining alders know little or next to nothing about the subject matter, and simply go-a-long with the chairman’s recommendation at the full board meeting.
The current process is a farce, which gives rise to fact that so many Alder persons increasingly shriek their responsibility.
posted by: Fair Haven Resident on June 28, 2011 12:45pm
I see that my alderwoman, Stephanie Bauer, has a better attendance record than Alderman Joe Rodriguez. That said, Alderwoman Bauer is practically a ghost in her own community, whereas Alderman Rodriguez has his finger on our community’s pulse, is omnipresent and responsive to constituent issues throughout Fair Haven. I, for one, am very sad that Joe is stepping down, though I imagine we can count on him to still be involved. I sure hope so!
posted by: Convenient on June 28, 2011 1:02pm
Didn’t we just read this story?
This time, Morehead can’t make it to his Tuesday and Thursday committee meetings…because of church.
Last time, he couldn’t make it to his Wednesday committee meetings…because of church.
Not to mention his attendance hasn’t gotten better in at least 2 years.
posted by: East Rock Independent on June 28, 2011 3:20pm
Abysmal. Particularly Morehead’s repeated poor attendance. This is not what democracy looks like!
posted by: Thank you Al Paolillo! on June 28, 2011 4:35pm
Alderman Paolillo does a fantastic job representing his ward. He answers calls at all hours, stops by to check on issues, and lets us know if there is something important going on in the neighborhood. Despite his full-time job, coaching two teams at the Annex and being an active member of his church, he is still able to honor his commitment to his constituents! Cheers to you Al and thank you for all you do.
posted by: Disgruntled Fair Haven Heights Resident on June 28, 2011 6:02pm
To me it is a shame, that the people that we rely on the most cannot be their to support the people who placed them in office. If you want a job to work for the people, please do your job. if i did this type of work behavior at my job, i am quite sure i would not have a job to go to anymore. We(the residents of new haven )are paying your salary. So maybe, if you don’t show up for work, that money should go back into a special fund to help offset some of the programs in city. Or if you don’t want to do the work, let someone else do the job for you..Their are issues that we have in Fair Haven Heights, pot holes, overgrown grass, rodent problems, and other quality of life issues that are not being addressed.
You should check the record of attendance at groups whose members are appointed, by the mayor, others. I have never seen some of the officers of those boards. Some of those really are resume padding.
posted by: Alex Rhodeen on June 28, 2011 10:28pm
Disgruntled Fair Haven Heights Resident -
All my best,
Alex Rhodeen Alderman for Ward 13
posted by: Mike on June 29, 2011 7:47am
Excellent investigative journalism NHI! If the city had more journalists actually investigating(like a breakdown of our SUPER HIGH property taxes and where they go) New Haven could become a better city. Educated citizens go out of their way to vote, uneducated citizens don’t give a crap. As it is now the New Haven Register is page after page of fluff, AP articles and ads. The NHI is the only (online)paper in town with the balls to tell the real story or the story that the Mayors spokesman didn’t feed us. Thanks.
As far as the alderman’s attendance record, I have to give props to Alex Rhodeen, the only time I have dealt with him he went out of his way to make some calls and actually fixed my problem, all in a day or two.
posted by: Drosophila on the Wall on June 29, 2011 8:03am
Disgruntled— To be fair, Aldermen make $2-3000 a year for what basically amounts to a full time service job, and it seems like Alderman Rhodeen is available to help with any problems despite his demanding work schedule.
posted by: bishop on June 29, 2011 8:05am
Seems like one solution is to make the BOA a more professional body: a legislative council with fewer aldermen, better pay, more responsibility and honest accountability. That may seem counterintuitive given this group’s dismal record. But in the future it could actually encourage the emergence of representatives who can make service the personal and professional priority it should be.
posted by: robn on June 29, 2011 10:59am
Shrink, professionalize and pay the BOA.
posted by: Fairhaven Dave on June 29, 2011 2:30pm
Rhodeen may have low attendance, but is the most responsive and active public official I have ever encountered. You will be hard pressed to find a person in Ward 13 (which is on an amazing upward swing due to Alex, several militant locals, and grassroots organizations) who has felt ignored or neglected by Alderman Rhodeen’s service to his neighborhood, the city or his country. Things here continue to improve. A functioning diversified neighborhood that becomes safer and more worth investing in and raising a family each year.
Speaking for myself, I assume attendance would go up if the BOA spent more time on important issues like crime and less on public policy beta testing for Yale. (Plastic bag laws, Transgender Bathrooms, Bike Lanes, etc…) When sinking at sea, patch the hole in the bottom of the boat FIRST.
Sorry guys you can’t be an absentee alderperson and think it is ok. I don’t care if residents can tex,email,phone nothing replaces a person. Get off the board and let someone who is willing to serve appropriately represent your neighborhoods. Shame on all of you and your excuses.
posted by: Rhodeen is Chair of Public Safety Committee on June 29, 2011 9:16pm
Fairhavn Dave—“Rhodeen may have low attendance, but is the most responsive and active public official I have ever encountered…I assume attendance would go up if the BOA spent more time on important issues like crime and less on public policy beta testing for Yale. (Plastic bag laws, Transgender Bathrooms, Bike Lanes, etc…)”
Giv me a break! Rhodeen is the Chair of the Public Safety Committee. If he wants to spend more time on crime issues, then he shoudld, as Chair, generate more crime issue related hearings and legislation.
Stop making excuses for him, he has horrible attendance, and there isn’t any excuse for that. ...
posted by: Fairhaven Dave on June 29, 2011 9:28pm
@ Larry. Have you ever watched C-SPAN? Some MENSA scale ultra smart folks are making amazing decisions that are rarely in their seats. And THEY get a working salary. Don’t confuse attendance with competence.
My Alderman is good at his duties and as an added bonus is a successful businessman with a military leadership background. If you want to gripe about attendance start carding all the kids running around the streets during school hours. THAT is the attendance problem this city should be dealing with, not this media driven “election year smear campaign” nonsense.
posted by: Fairheaven on June 30, 2011 1:37pm
Alex Rhodeen ... There’s no neighborhood newsletter (like they have in East Rock), no interest in promoting events, no community spirit.
posted by: Fairhaven Dave on June 30, 2011 5:26pm
Community spirit!? Apparently you didn’t go trick or treating last fall. We are the best chunk of town for Halloween spirit HANDS DOWN. Visiting the homes of people from all corners of the world, & asking for candy for children dressed as godzilla is the ultimate sign of trusting your neighbors. IMHO My daughter had such a good time I almost sent everybody on the hill a thank you card.
Have you not noticed that people are starting to live in their OWN homes, fix them up, raise families, and socialize with each other in their back yards? How locals are making it difficult to be a criminal around here? The new roads? Repaired bridges? Families with children on pleasant strolls well past dusk? People are moving here from McMansion territory to retire. We have our share of teenagers raising hell, speeders, and domestics, but do not create a problem where there is none. We are already on a nice upswing and should stay the course.
Newsletter like East Rock… we use the internet for that. We don’t waste trees on a newsletter. I get updates quite frequently. Anybody who attends a single neighborhood event gets added to the email list. You should come to a few.
Anybody who speaks ill of the progress Rhodeen has made in 13 is likely trying to sell you on someone else, (or themselves) and has a loose grasp on the progress we have been making.
Smear campaign. Election year. Time for you to move on to your next obfuscation.
posted by: He Throws a Mean Halloween Party on July 1, 2011 9:18am
@FairHAVEN Dave “Have you ever watched C-SPAN? Some MENSA scale ultra smart folks are making amazing decisions that are rarely in their seats. And THEY get a working salary. Don’t confuse attendance with competence.”
Come on, be for real. You know that even though those Congresspeople may not be sitting in the seats, they are somewhere in the Capital and will be evenually voting. That is the difference between Rhodeen, Morehead, et al., the Congresspeople are fulfilling their duties and VOTING, Rhodeen IS NOT.
How can he be considered competent when he is not completing the duties he was elected to do, REPRESENT his constituents at City Hall and VOTE?
So, if he is good at throwing Halloween parties, why not elect him as he King of Party Throwers, and leave he legislative work to someone who cares to do it.
posted by: John on July 1, 2011 8:57pm
Alderperson is a JOB. If I missed 65% of my meetings at work, I’d be fired. TWO obligations a year with the reserves is hardly an excuse! Rhodeen has done nothing to improve the all night racing, and blasting music on Quinnipiac and Lexington Ave. These streets are in desperate need of traffic calming. Speed humps are a joke and pose no threat to cars. Rip them up. Put in speed BUMPS! Or better yet little roundabouts like they have all over in Portland. At the very least try and get the police to actually show up when my neighbors and I call.