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.
Theoretically, the committee includes all members of the Board of Aldermen. But only 14 of 30 aldermen showed up at last week’s meeting of the committee of the whole, preventing the body from voting on changes to car tax abatement requests.
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.”