Aug 1, 2023 - News

Nearly a third of city board members are chronically absent

Illustration of Des Moines City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Nearly a third of board and commission members appointed by the Des Moines City Council have missed 25% or more of their meetings through June this year, according to records obtained by Axios.

Why it matters: Those members make decisions or recommendations about things like building codes, civil rights and zoning enforcement that are essential for the city's growth and operations.

  • City code requires their absences not exceed the 25% threshold over the course of a calendar year, with violators potentially removed from their seats by the City Council.

Between the lines: Unlike council positions, DSM's board and commission members are unpaid.

  • Most of the 17 boards or commissions meet monthly.

By the numbers: Of the 170 board and commission members tracked by the city clerk's office, 49 missed at least 25% of their scheduled meetings between January and June.

  • Fourteen of them missed between half and all meetings, records show.

What they're saying: Appointees generally alert her prior to missing, councilperson Linda Westergaard tells Axios.

  • During a brief illness last year, Westergaard attended a council meeting from her hospital bed virtually.
  • She says she regularly reminds her appointees about the importance of attendance and appoints someone else if lifestyle changes make it difficult for them to fully participate.

Catch up fast: Attendance has become a prominent topic at DSM City Hall in light of the chronic absenteeism of Councilperson Indira Sheumaker.

The intrigue: Beaverdale Neighborhood Association president Marcus Coenen — who last month publicly called on Sheumaker to improve her attendance — is himself on the city's list.

  • Coenen missed two of six meetings as a member of the Sister Cities Commission meetings before resigning in May, records show.
  • He realized he had too many other commitments, including a newborn child, to continue on the commission, he tells Axios.

The big picture: Absences can delay government actions, including situations on the state level where there are too few members to constitute a quorum.


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