Lodi City Council debate turns heated - News - Mobile

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Lodi City Council debate turns heated

Lodi City Council weighs updating attendance rules for commissioners

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Councilman Bob Johnson wondered this week if a commissioner he appointed twice to a local board was showing up to meetings enough to do her job.

That commissioner appeared at Wednesday’s City Council meeting to say yes, she was.

That’s when things got heated.

Johnson said Barbara Wardrobe-Fox, a member of the Parks and Recreation Commission, had attended less than half of the required meetings since her first appointment in 2008, was not up to date on her ethics training, and was late on political filings in 2010. He recommended she be removed from the board.

But Wardrobe-Fox came to the podium prepared to defend herself with documents and an attorney.

“I am not embarrassed or humiliated to be standing here,” she said.

City clerk Randi Johl was able to confirm Wardrobe-Fox had completed ethics training, though it was past the Dec. 31 deadline. And Wardrobe-Fox said Johnson’s numbers on her attendance were wrong.

Wardrobe-Fox said she had never missed more than half of the meetings in a given year. According to copies of the minutes from Parks and Recreation Commission meetings from 2008 to 2013, the most meetings Wardrobe-Fox missed was three of eight meetings in 2012.

“Before they draw the line on me, the should do a complete audit on all commissions. It’s a bit strange that I’ve been singled out among all the commissioners,” said Wardrobe-Fox.

Council members argued across the board.

JoAnne Mounce called it shameful that the council was trying to dismiss a volunteer at an open meeting, and pointed out the action was being taken against the only woman on the commission.

Mayor Alan Nakanishi drove home the point that commissioners are at-will appointments, not employees, and aren’t entitled to the same dismissal procedures.

“It’s important to understand she was treated very fairly,” he said, thanking Wardrobe-Fox for her service on the commission. “It’s not because we didn’t want her because she’s a lady.”

Johnson stood by his information at first and snapped at Mounce when she spoke over him.

In the end, the discrepancy over the attendance numbers caused Johnson to rescind his recommendation. Wardrobe-Fox remains on the commission.

But the debate may lead to changes in how city commissioner attendance and requirements are monitored.

Mounce referred to her time on the Eastside Improvement Committee, which had a process to deal with absenteeism. If one member missed three meetings, it was reported to the mayor with the recommendation that person be removed.

“None of our boards and commissions have that caveat,” she said. “There is nothing wrong with members of a team making sure each other is in compliance.”

But calling a volunteer to task in front of the council was not Mounce’s idea of an appropriate action.

“We should be concentrating on ways to make the city financially healthy, not monitoring our appointments to this degree. It is nonsense to have done what we did to Miss Wardrobe-Fox last night,” she said.

Mounce expects a policy on monitoring appointed commissioners to come before the council in the coming months.

Johnson said he spoke with Wardrobe-Fox about her attendance in 2011 before her reappointment, and he was assured it would improve. He called this week’s questions a follow-up to that conversation.

He agreed a system is needed to monitor commissioners.

“By having some early warning systems, we’d be able to avoid these unpleasant situations,” he said.

Wardrobe-Fox did not return request for comment on Thursday.

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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