Sports, Jobs Kept Lawmakers From Lawmaking

Thomas MacMillan PhotoFour city alders had perfect attendance this past year. Four others missed more than a third of their committee meetings at City Hall.

That’s final tally for 2013, as recorded by the the Office of Legislative Services.

A full dozen alders made it to every single meeting of the full Board of Alders. And four of those alders—Beaver Hills’ Brian Wingate, Wooster Square’s Mike Smart, and the Hill’s Dolores Colon and Jorge Perez—also had perfect attendance at their committee meetings.

Twelve aldermen had perfect attendance at full board meetings: Alders Wingate, Smart, Perez, Colon, Al Paolillo, Doug Hausladen, Tyisha Walker, Jessica Holmes, Justin Elicker, Sal DeCola, Claudette Robinson-Thorpe and Santiago Berrios-Bones, who joined the board mid-term.

Only two aldermen had less than 80 percent attendance at full board meetings: Fair Haven’s Ernie Santiago and West Rock’s Carlton Staggers. Their excuses: work and basketball-playing daughters, respectively.

The other alders with the lowest attendance records aren’t on the board anymore.

Overall, the board collectively had a 93 percent attendance rate at full board meetings, and an 83 percent rate at committee meetings. Click here for a spreadsheet prepared by the legislative services.

Alders are typically assigned to two or three committees, which are where most of the working of crafting new laws takes place. Committees are the forum for public hearings, fact-gathering, discussion. In committee meetings, alders hammer out the details of new proposals then pass them on to the full board for a vote. Full board meetings feature far less discussion; the full board very rarely goes against a recommendation coming out of committee.

All but five alders made it to at least 70 percent of their committee meetings. Four of those five—all but Staggers—are no longer alders.

• Upper Westville Alder Sergio Rodriguez, who wrestled with health problems in 2013, made it to 60 percent. After an unsuccessful bid to become city clerk, Rodriguez is now working for the state Department of Education.

• Quinnipiac Meadows Alder Marc Stopa was at 59 percent of his assigned committee meetings. Stopa didn’t run for reelection after taking a job reviewing contracts for a federal agency.

• Hill Alder Jackie James attended exactly half of her committee meetings. James has been appointed as the city’s deputy head of community services.

• Newhallville/Prospect Hill Alder Alfreda Edwards made it to 45 percent of her committee meetings. She didn’t run for reelection.

• Staggers made it to just 35 percent of his committee meetings. He was assigned to two committees: Human Services and Youth Services. He missed all five Human Services meetings and made it to three of six Youth Services meetings. He was one of 10 alders appointed to a special committee on ward redistricting, and didn’t attend the committee’s one meeting.

The committees with the worst attendance problems were Aldermanic Affairs/Tax Abatement, Aldermanic Affairs and Human Services. The chart shows the overall rate of attendance for all the committees.

Staggers didn’t make it to Thursday night’s full meeting of the Board of Alders. Reached by phone afterward, he said he was at a high school basketball game, supporting his twin sophomore daughters who play for Career.

Staggers said he misses many meetings “because during basketball season, I don’t miss most of their games.” Staggers said his fatherly obligations take precedence over aldermanic duties. “I’m at a game now.”

Staggers said it was halftime; Career was up by 10 points over Guilford, 33 to 23.

Basketball games kept Staggers away from not just committee meetings but full board meetings as well. While Edwards had the lowest board meeting attendance rate—55 percent—Staggers was second to last, at 77 percent. He shared that ranking with Santiago.

“I was working late,” Santiago (pictured) explained Thursday night. He said he drives a recycling truck in West Haven. “I have to pay my bills.”

“Now it’s different,” Santiago said. His schedule has changed, which will allow him to attend more meetings, he said. “You’ll see the improvement this year.”

Santiago said he also coaches soccer, softball, and basketball at St. Francis and St. Rose of Lima School.

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posted by: Wooster Squared on January 24, 2014  4:54pm

Paul, do you have any data for the pre-2011 board? It seems like this group actually has a much higher attendance rate than previous boards.

posted by: wendy1 on January 24, 2014  5:04pm

If this was a paid full time position, people would show up.  I have been pushing this for years.

posted by: FacChec on January 24, 2014  5:11pm

Aldermanic attendance at committee meetings is important from the stand point that the issues should have been fleshed out and thoroughly debated. They are not.
After committee, a recommendation and report is supplied to the full board. The kicker here is that before reaching the full board the leadership caucus has a meeting in which 99% of the decision and vote is decided. The full board meeting is merely an academic exercise in which, as previously verified by the NHI, all voting results are unanimous, and without debate. The leadership under Jorge Perez influences this repeated outcome.

Therefore, attendance records at committee and full board meetings do not carry the weight and importance that taxpayers and voters expect.

posted by: HewNaven on January 24, 2014  5:26pm

Where’s Darnell? Now that he’s not worried about running for Harp’s Senate seat, its time to take back that BoA seat from Staggers in 2015! I agree family is most important. Staggers has every right to make that choice and be at every single basketball game for the twins… It just means that he shouldn’t be an alderperson.

The People’s Caucus should disassociate themselves from Staggers immediately. Here’s a sports metaphor:
You don’t want the guy who doesn’t show up for practice on your team. It just proves that he’s not serious about improving his game or helping the team.

posted by: darnell on January 24, 2014  6:37pm

@HewHaven, thanks for the vote of confidence, but I have already served my time on the BOA and paid my debt to society…lol…BTW, I had perfect attendance when I served. There are many fine people in the 30th who can serve. I can tell you from personal knowledge that he has been super committed to ALL of his children, especially their basketball careers, the twins being the youngest and the last in the nest. I will not comment as to whether or not he should make a choice between trying to improve his attendance at the BOA or or giving it up, but I can say there were many nights where I felt neglectful to my family obligations. I trust in the future that he will make a decision regarding attendance that will best serve his family and hopefully his community.

Good luck to all of those underpaid and overworked public servants.

posted by: LoveNH on January 24, 2014  10:19pm

Personally, I think these attendance records are surprisingly high.
Given the “salary” and responsibilities, being a good alder requires a commitment to public service at significant personal sacrifice. For those of you who qualify, thank you.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on January 25, 2014  10:50am

“Four others missed more than a third of their committee meetings at City Hall.”

The graphic is too small to be easily deciphered, but it appears that in fact, five (Stopa is the fifth) missed more than 1/3 of their committee meetings. And, as you later enumerate, some of those missed TWO-thirds of their committee meetings.

posted by: HewNaven on January 25, 2014  7:47pm


Thanks for your response.

I hope I wasn’t being too cynical of Staggers. I think he deserves credit for being such an exemplary father. But I do think the time commitment to serving on boards and commissions is a great barrier to many. I think its a tragedy that you and he, and others had to make that choice between family and serving. Its no wonder the concerns of middle-class families and single parents are under-represented in politics. They simply don’t have enough time to get involved. Perhaps, something as simple as providing child care at public meetings, etc. could help this scenario. Parents shouldn’t have to make the choice between caring for their children and giving them a voice. And, I agree, a pay raise for Alders wouldn’t hurt.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 25, 2014  8:17pm

My question to All of you.Why keep voting them in.

posted by: darnell on January 25, 2014  11:34pm

HewHaven, I understand yours and others concerns that folks would volunteer for these jobs; in fact, we go out and beg people to give us the job and then some of us don’t find the time to attend. It can be frustrating. I felt that I asked for the job, so I should at least do it. But I don’t think anyone who gets into it truly understands the time commitment until they actually serve.

Would I do it again? Maybe, if I thought I could really contribute and make a difference. But I would have to give it much thought, since my daughter is now 11 years old and needs me now more than ever.

I also do believe that there are good folks in the city who can contribute, Carlton included, and I think they should have a chance to have their voices heard. Just in our ward we have Cassandra Lang and Honda Smith just to name two.

It would be nice to have all reps have 100% attendance, but I don’t think that will happen no matter how much money we pay them, unless of course you tied pay to attendance. Hey, that’s a thought!