COLUMBIA — Repeated absences from commission meetings and the problems that ride on the coattails of faltering attendance have caused the Columbia Substance Abuse Advisory Commission to elect to change its attendance policy.
A city manager's report, released June 10, cited frequent absences as a reason to change the commission's attendance policy by striking the line "without being excused" from the city of Columbia code of ordinances. The change would allow the commission chair to dismiss members who miss half or more of the meetings in a calender year or three consecutive meetings.
The commission's chairman, Michael Yoakum, proposed the change in policy.
"I noticed that in the four years I have been on (the commission), the same people attend, and pretty much the same don't," Yoakum said. "I wanted to make sure out of the 11 people, we could get a consistent 80-90 percent attendance rate. So I worked with Steve Hollis on an idea that would not alienate people but would hold them accountable."
Since the start of 2008, the 11-member commission - two of whom are appointed from the Columbia Public School District - has had more difficulty achieving its goals of advising the City Council on substance abuse and promoting programs focused on preventing alcohol and drug abuse among Columbia's youth.
Since January, there have been an average of five members missing per meeting, and six members have missed over half of the meetings. These absences have resulted in quorums not being met on two occasions in the last year, the city manager's report stated.
Yoakum explained the lack of attendance hurts the commission by causing it to lose valuable input from members.
"We struggle at almost every meeting to make quorum," he said. "We get a lot of different voices on the commission, but when the same people show up, and the same people don't, you are losing a lot of input. You can get a broad range of opinions, but when certain people don't show up it is hard to get a sense of direction. It hurt our ability to get stuff done, and makes things more complicated."
Committee members have only addressed new business at two of the seven scheduled meetings held so far this year. In one of these meetings, the only new business was a proposal for term limits for members and the amendment to the commission's attendance policy.
Mitchell Moore, a member of the commission, opposed both term limits and the new attendance policy at the May commission meeting. Moore said that there are no term limits for the City Council, and to create them for the commission would cause a lack of "institutional memory.
"You re-invent the wheel when members don't know what we have done in the past," he said.
According to the minutes from the commission's May 14 meeting, Moore voted against a new attendance policy. However, when asked on Saturday, he said some kind of attendance policy would be a good idea.
Yoakum feels the majority of the commission supports the proposed change in attendance policy.
"I would say the general feeling was that people miss because they can, but if there is something there holding them accountable they will strive harder to make the meetings," Yoakum said. "Even those who missed the meetings agreed this is a good plan and a good thing to do."