Mar 18, 2024 - News

Widespread absenteeism on Des Moines' boards

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Almost 30% of Des Moines' board and commission members missed at least a quarter of their meetings last year, according to the city's latest annual attendance report.

Why it matters: Failure to show up can delay city business, result in underrepresentation of groups or neighborhoods and waste money.

How it works: DSM's boards and commissions are made up almost entirely of volunteer citizens appointed by City Council.

  • They help government run more efficiently by reviewing projects and policies and making recommendations to city leaders.

Yes, but: Commission member absences cannot exceed 25% of regularly scheduled meetings in a calendar year or they face possible removal from their seats, according to DSM's attendance requirements.

  • Of 183 members last year, 53 exceeded the limit and17 missed 40% or more.

Inside the room: Typically, City Council members will speak privately with the person they appointed, instead of publicly reprimanding their absences.

  • Often, there is a legitimate reason for the absences and the problem is resolved or the person voluntarily resigns, Councilperson Linda Westergaard told us last year.

Zoom in: Developer and Urban Design Review Board member Tim Rypma missed 19 of 20 meetings in 2023, a 95% absence rate and the worst attendance record.

  • He missed meetings because of a personal matter, but he is back now, Rympa told Axios.

Between the lines: Attendance came into the forefront last year after former City Councilperson Indira Sheumaker missed six consecutive months of council meetings without explanation.

The intrigue: Justyn Lewis, a candidate for tomorrow's special at-large City Council election, missed eight of 23 Plan and Zoning Commission meetings last year, a 35% absence rate.

  • Meeting times often conflicted with his volunteer coaching with the DSM Parks and Recreation department, he told Axios.
  • He alternated responsibilities to minimize absences in both roles, he said.
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