Edmonton city councillors missing up to 16% of city meetings

WATCH ABOVE: Decisions on big ticket items, such as public transit, infrastructure and waste management, happen at city meetings. But how often does your councillor show up? A Global News analysis found Edmonton councillors miss, on average, seven per cent of meetings. Julia Wong breaks down the numbers.

Numbers analyzed by Global News show that Edmonton city councillors have been missing, on average, seven per cent of committee and council meetings in the current term.

The numbers, which cover meetings from Oct. 17, 2017 to Nov. 2, 2018, provide insight into which councillors are constant fixtures at committee and council meetings and which ones are not.

The absentee rate for councillors ranged from zero to 16 per cent.

Meetings are just one part of a councillor’s role; they often attend community events, city-scheduled programs and meet with constituents. However, important decisions on municipal services like public transit, waste management and budgets are made at committee and council meetings.

Tonia Gloweski/Global News
Tonia Gloweski/Global News Tonia Gloweski/Global News

Mayor Don Iveson said he is satisfied that he was able to attend more than 90 per cent of the meetings.

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“If I’m not there, it’s probably because I’m at the legislature or in parliament or meeting with an investor or a regional partner,” he said. Iveson is the chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Big City Mayors Caucus and often travels to Ottawa.

Iveson — who said he makes judgment calls about which meetings and issues he attends — said it falls on each councillor to determine how their work is done, adding it is not the responsibility of the mayor to police the councillors.

“What’s most important for me is: are they also reading the material? Are they aware? Are they responding to constituent inquiries?” he said.

“I think expecting councillors to be at every single meeting, given some of our other commitments and board appointments and some lobbying we need to do on behalf of Edmontonians, is not realistic…

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“I think the public’s realistic that we should be there better than nine times out of 10, for example.”

Best record for first-time councillor

Ward 3 Councillor Jon Dziadyk is a first-time councillor whose absentee rate is zero per cent.

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READ MORE: Veteran Edmonton councillor Dave Loken loses Ward 3 seat to Jon Dziadyk 

“I’m quite proud of my attendance record,” Dziadyk said.

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“I take my job very seriously. I spent a long time on the campaign trails promising the people of north Edmonton in Ward 3 that I would represent them. The best way for me to represent them to my fullest ability is to always be present at the meetings where I can channel their opinions.”

Dziadyk said he ensures his attendance record stays intact by not scheduling anything discretionary during a council or committee meeting.

“I don’t see any reason why I would cease having 100 per cent attendance. I’m not going to be booking vacations or anything else during council meetings.

“When there’s conflicting community events, which happen from time to time, I’ll still make it my priority to be at the council meetings,” he said.

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Dziadyk is not alone in having perfect attendance. Two-time city councillor Andrew Knack and fellow two-time city councillor Scott McKeen also have a perfect record so far this term; both also had a higher number of meetings to attend.

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National absentee rate

The absentee rate across Canada in 2017, according to Statistics Canada, was four per cent.

Shairose Lalani is a Chartered Professional in Human Resources (CPHR) and consults on issues such as organizational effectiveness, executive coaching and change management. She has experience both in the private and the public sector.

Lalani, who reviewed the data, said there should be consistency when it comes to attendance records.

“They’re doing a particular role and they’re expected to be at a particular place for that role,” she said.

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“I would start to ask questions about it if there was something happening within those roles that would make it difficult for them to fulfill those responsibilities. I would also start to wonder about whether there are differences of opinion within the councillor group about what is acceptable and not acceptable, based on maybe their experience or their tenure on council or the level of engagement they feel they should have versus need to have.”

Lalani said extenuating circumstances need to be looked to gain a better understanding of attendance.

“What is it that’s happening, for example, in the councillor world then that we need to look at to help them succeed?

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“For example, the timing of meetings, double booking meetings, the number of committees one councillor might be asked to be on or engaged with versus another.”

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‘One place at one time’

Ward 11 Councillor Mike Nickel has an absentee rate of 16 per cent, the most out of any councillor. For the past few months, Nickel campaigned for the UCP nomination in Edmonton-South; he lost the race last week.

Global News called, emailed and visited Nickel’s office for two days to get a response about his attendance rate.

Last Friday, Global News approached Nickel after a special council meeting to get a comment but the councillor declined and walked away from our cameras.

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READ MORE: Edmonton city Coun. Mike Nickel loses UCP nomination bid

The absentee rate was calculated by looking at attendance records for 17 city committees; councillors typically sit on three or four committees. They also sit on other boards and committees, such as the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA), Federation of Canadian Municipalities and River Valley Alliance, that are not included in the data analyzed by Global News.

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Ward 12 Councillor Mohinder Banga has the same absentee rate as the average – seven per cent.

“It’s impossible probably for any of us to be present at 100 per cent of the meetings,” he said.

“We’re not just on the city council or committee meetings. We’re also on the external boards and committees.”

Banga, who also sits on the AUMA, said he often has to make some tough decisions about what to attend and what to skip.

“You can only be in one place at one time,” he said.

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“Depending upon how often the committee meetings are and how important those are, at times, if they happen every six months or every three months, depending on what the community meeting is, we want to make sure we’re on board with all the committees we’re on. We have to sometimes pick and choose.”

Banga, who believes improvements made to scheduling meetings could help attendance rates, said constituents should understand his involvement with other non-city committees is important as well.

“All those committees we’re on, they’re interrelated to the city work. We’re not out there for the sake of being out there. They’re all related to the functions that we are involved in the city council.”

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