If the first six months of this year are any indication, voting by members of Walbridge Village Council in the next six will follow a pattern on one issue – Mayor Dan Wilczynski’s attendance at council meetings.
If the pattern holds, councilman Nathan Eikost – as he has eight times in the first half of the year - will make a motion to excuse the mayor’s absence if the mayor is unable to attend a meeting, and the ensuing vote by the six members of council will end in a 3-3 tie, which isn’t enough to approve the motion.
Council members will then move on to other business before them.
According to minutes of 2012 meetings, the mayor missed seven regular meetings of council and two special meetings from Jan 4 to June 20. Council meets the first and third Wednesday of the month in regular meetings and calls for special meetings as needed.
The mayor attended five regular meetings and one special meeting. Council unanimously voted to excuse his absence from the special meetings on Feb. 20 and May 10.
His attendance record last year was also low and the issue was raised shortly before the November election when a resident asked during a candidate forum if it would continue.
Mayor Wilczynski conceded his private sector job had required him to be out of town frequently, causing him to miss on average one council meeting a month.
Last week, he said his new job requires him to travel about 20 weeks a year – roughly the same schedule he told residents during the forum it would be.
“When I’m not travelling I am able to be home and available at any hour of the day for village business,” the mayor said. “This helps when it comes time to meet with citizens or businesses or our own staff. I can even take time to work with our guys like I did several days this year to help get the pool ready to open. Even a mayor that works an 8 to 5 job in town would not have that freedom. Also, when I am travelling I am available via phone, text, and email at practically anytime.”
In May, council unanimously approved the appointment of Police Chief Ken Frost to also assume the duties of village administrator – a part-time position that had been vacant since February. Consequently, the village administration is able to provide basic services efficiently, the mayor says.
“I believe that having a village administrator helps us to keep things moving and not have our street department personnel bogged down by administrative work,” he said.
Ron Liwo and Stewart Murphy, who challenged the mayor in the November race, both said during the campaign they thought the village’s street repair program had been managed poorly.
At the time, the administrator position was vacant.
The village oversees its storm sewer system but water and sanitary sewer lines are primarily maintained by the Northwestern Water and Sewer District.
Which begs the question: Is it vital for the mayor to be at council meetings?
Councilman Pat Fox, who’s voted to excuse the absences, said the mayor has returned calls and messages promptly and met his responsibilities.
Asked if he thought the matter was an important issue, he replied: “Not to me it’s not.”
Ed Kolanko, council president, last voted to not excuse the mayor during council’s regular Feb. 15 meeting because the mayor hadn’t provided him with a schedule of his business-related travel as requested. Since then, Kolanko, who assumes some responsibilities as acting mayor when Wilczynski is away on business, has voted to excuse his absences.
Kolanko said last week, however, the absences were “getting out of hand” and were a disservice to council, village employees, and residents. He said he may change his vote in the future to not excuse them.
Sue Hart-Douglas, who chairs council’s parks and recreation committee and has voted to not excuse the mayor from the regular meetings, said a local soccer league has tougher by-laws for its governing board members to attend meetings than village council does.
“When he was on council he was there for the council meetings on the first and third Wednesdays,” she said. “I didn’t notice the absenteeism when I first got on council like I do now. It’s pretty evident when you don’t see him at the meetings so often. I think he’s been a good mayor for the village. I think he has some good economic development ideas. But I think it makes a big difference if he’s not there.”
To date, there hasn’t been a vote by council on an ordinance that needed a tie-breaking vote by the mayor when he wasn’t there, she said.
Council members Jan Sawaya and Fred Sloyer have also routinely voted to not excuse the absences while Eikost votes for excusing.
Sloyer last week said the mayor shouldn’t rely so much on communicating via cell phone and other technology.
“I don’t think it’s right,” Sloyer said of the absences. “The way I see it, people voted me in and I want to represent them as best I can.”
Mayor Wilczynski said some of his critics have a “personal issue” with him being in the mayor’s seat and have little good to say about what the administration and council are trying to accomplish for the village.
His decision in 2010 to donate his mayoral salary back to the village to help the municipal budget even drew criticism.
“No other council people joined me then,” he said. “In fact, I was ridiculed for doing it. Since then I have not donated my salary back yet again, but I am considering it.”
If he does donate his salary back to the village, he will still qualify for Ohio Public Employees Retirement System benefits, which grant a full month of service credit if a qualifying salary exceeds $250 a month, said Julie Graham-Price a spokesperson for OPERS.