Tie lawmakers' pay to attendance?

February 16, 2008

(Editor's note: This is a question we recently asked members of The Herald-Mail's Opinion Club.)

The first duty of any elected official is to attend the meetings of the panel to which he or she has been elected, whether it be the U.S. Congress, state legislature or town council.

Most relish this responsibility, but a few do not. For example, after a newspaper reporter found that one group of lawmakers in Niagara County, N.Y., had missed 20 percent of their assigned committee meetings in 2006, one lawmaker proposed to link pay to attendance. Is that a good way to encourage attendance, or is there a better way?

· The first duty of an elected official, or anyone making a serious commitment to anything, is to make an effort to show up. (What's a wedding with the groom left standing at the altar while the bride is off shopping?)


We seem to have become a society where it is considered all right to take the position and pay, but not give the service. Maybe some of the benefits need to be removed from those who only want the title, but not the responsibilities that go with it.

If newspapers all over the country would print the statistics of many of our lazy lawmakers not showing up as promised, maybe the attendance would improve, or at least they might not be elected again. This would make room for those who do believe service and dependability go hand in hand.

- Kate Prado

· The attendance-for-pay sounds like good idea. Most of us have to work 2,080 hours a year for our wages. We get vacation, sick leave, holidays, etc., but we still have to be there to receive our pay. Why shouldn't our elected officials?

Congress puts in about 100 days a year for nearly $200,000. Members' health care is free, trips are at the taxpayers' expense, with plenty of vacation time. Maybe if they were required to be at the office 52 weeks out of the year, we would get better results from their efforts.

Politicians tend to take advantage of their political position and they milk it for all it's worth.

- Edward Kendall

· At first glance, docking pay seems like a reasonable solution for poor attendance. On the other hand, enforcement would likely be difficult. For example, each of our County Commissioners is assigned to attend meetings of various county committees and organizations, in addition to attending the weekly commissioners' meeting.

How much of a commissioner's salary would be allocated to each meeting and who would keep the attendance sheet?

A vigilant newspaper could probably be more effective in solving the problem by exposing lazy elected officials and getting them voted out of office. But that brings up the problem of what to do about lazy voters who don't care.

- Jim Laird

· There are probable legal ramifications to making the compensation attach to attendance, since it is presently attached to being elected. However, not only do state representatives have committee assignments, so do county commissioners.

In addition to the regular weekly meetings of the board and all of the public hearings, etc., as a whole, each commissioner is assigned to any number from several to numerous citizen advisory boards and commissions as a liaison to the whole.

Attendance at these meetings should carry some weight in the evaluation of service rendered by each, particularly to be reviewed annually or during bids for re-election. Attendance at these meetings is recorded in the minutes of those groups, all of which meet under open-meeting requirements.

State representatives have a number of committees that meet in Annapolis, some of them more than just during the legislative session. These, too, could be monitored. Meeting as a group there and locally, or meeting one-on-one with constituent groups in the district in which they serve, need to be weighed within the context of total demands on their time.

-Linda Irvin-Craig

· It should be a requirement for them to remain an official. If they are not meeting their requirements, then they should be replaced. It's all part of the job and if they are not passionate about their position, then they are not working for the people.

- Denise Minnick

· I think it is a great idea. In fact, I think the total cost of each state's federal representatives and senators and their staffs should be funded by the state they represent - including benefits and retirement. This would allow the state to determine the salary and benefits of those that represent them. We would have to determine if they deserve a raise of not. Where else does the employee determine the salary of the employee?

- Cliff Lane

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