In open session at the White Salmon City Council's Dec. 16 meeting, White Salmon Mayor David Poucher complained that City Council member Richard Marx had been absent from a number of council meetings in recent months.
Marx was not in attendance at the Dec. 16 meeting, but Mayor Poucher said he believed the topic needed to be discussed. Poucher pointed out that one of the reasons he brought the issue up was to get the views of Marx's fellow council members.
"I was hoping councilor Marx would be here," Poucher said. "We have five council members and only four council members doing the work. Marx was on the parks and recreation committee and the real estate/land use committee. My records indicate he only showed up for two meetings in 2009. My question to him -- are you going to fulfill your duties as council member?"
According to Poucher, Marx chaired the city operations committee in 2008, "and had only four meetings." He said the 2009 chair of the same committee, Brad Roberts, has held 20 meetings in 2009.
"It's an extremely important committee, and I have concerns about this issue. I need direction from the council members on how to proceed," Poucher said.
Roberts said he shared the mayor's concerns.
"It's a valid topic," Roberts said. "There's a lot to do and figuring out how to do it with only four members is difficult."
"It's harder on those who have to serve by themselves. We work as a team. That's what we were elected to do," added council member Bob Landgren.
Council member Mark Peppel said having another council member sharing more of the load would be a big help.
"I don't mind doing the committee work, but it would be nice to have the option not to take on so much," Peppel said.
Poucher recently requested input from all the City Council members regarding their preferences about which committees the members want to serve on in 2010. All but one council member replied, he said.
"Everyone has gotten back to me except for Marx on what committees they want to serve on. Even newly-elected councilor Anthony Coulter responded," Poucher said.
Marx is serving in his second four-year term on the City Council. He was re-elected in 2007 with 57.2 percent of the vote.
In response to the criticism from the mayor, Marx said on Monday that he answers to the city's voters -- and not to the mayor.
"I don't work for the mayor, but for those who elected me," Marx said. "I am always available to the voters, and they will be the ones who decide about my service."
Marx added that perhaps every council member's attendance record should be scrutinized by the mayor, and not just his.
Peppel said he believed citizens needed to be aware of the issue.
"I wish citizens would request we have a five-member council and see it's taken care of," Peppel said. "They're the ones getting screwed over in this deal."
At that point in the meeting, Roberts asked the city's attorney, Ken Woodrich, to explain what state law has to say about unexcused absences for council members.
"A council member can be removed after missing three consecutive regular meetings," Woodrich responded.
Poucher pointed out that Marx has not run afoul of that rule.
"He misses every other meeting or misses two, but not three in a row," Poucher said.
"I attend all the meetings that my schedule permits," Marx explained in response. "I pay special attention when the meeting is critical and when decisions need to be made that have not been already decided."