New Kane County Board attendance figures show some elected officials take the part-time nature of the jobs more literally than others.
Half of the county board members returning in 2011 missed at least 20 percent of the meetings they were paid to attend in 2010. At the same time, they all received salaries of $24,000 along with health insurance and pension benefits for members who've opted to accept those perks of the job.
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But board members with the worst attendance records say their lack of appearances at committee meetings and for votes doesn't reflect the full picture of how they serve their constituents.
Board member Donnell Collins, of Aurora, was absent from meetings he was expected to be at more than 42 percent of the time in 2010. As a sports photographer, Collins often works hours that conflict with county board meetings.
"I balance my work schedule with what the meeting agenda is," Collins explained. "If it's a vote that's taking place where I can really make a difference I do everything I can to make it. If I think that's not the case, I may miss it in favor of other responsibilities. But I think a lot of meetings you don't know you even need to have the meeting until you're in the meeting."
Collins said he balances out his absences by doing a lot of constituent work behind the scenes.
"When I get calls from my constituents that I can handle, and it doesn't have anything to do with going to a meeting, I just go right to that county department with the issue," Collins said. "I think I still get my job done. I understand I have an obligation to the county, but I have to juggle that with the obligation I have to my own household."
County board member Cristina Castro, of Elgin, missed 34 percent of the meetings she was scheduled to attend in 2010. She said that high percentage is part a reflection of the relative inactivity of some of the committees she was involved in.
For example, the Legislative Committee only had one meeting after June of last year. The other most common reason she was absent was because, at times, meetings like the Committee of the Whole, would only rehash a presentation she'd already seen, questioned and commented on while in committee. The rest of the absences are just the reality of having a job outside the county board.
"I do have a full-time job, and I do work very hard to move my schedule around," Castro said. "My goal is to go to as many meetings as I can. I'm not there to just collect a paycheck. I look at every piece of information that comes through, and I'm not afraid to speak up and ask questions."
When she can't attend a meeting, Castro said she directs her questions to committee chairs or County Board Chairman Karen McConnaughay in phone calls and emails.
McConnaughay said she's always glad when people like Castro do their homework outside of meetings. But that's not always an adequate substitute for actually attending a meeting. And that's why McConnaughay decided to track and post county board members' attendance on the new county website. "It's not meant to embarrass or be punitive," she said. "But I've sounded off on this issue on a number of occasions. The goal is to strive to have the highest level of attendance. If we need to change a meeting time, great. If it needs to be a change in location, fine. We're willing to be flexible, but they need to participate in the committees they've been assigned to."
The most faithful attendee of county meetings was Elburn's Drew Frasz, who missed only one of 52 meetings last year.
"I take the job seriously, and we get paid to be there," Frasz said.
Being a construction business owner gave Frasz more flexibility to attend meetings, particularly when business slowed along with the economy last year. But Frasz said he hopes to attend just as many meetings when his businesses pick back up.
"For me, I believe if you sign up for something and make a commitment to people you should be there," Frasz said.