For the roughly $10,000 they get paid each year, Macon City Council members are asked to attend a lot of meetings: regular council meetings, meetings of two or three committees and nonvoting work sessions. Thats roughly 80 to 100 meetings for each of the 15 council members, and meetings can last anywhere from 10 minutes to three or four hours.
Naturally, not everyone shows up to every meeting. Some have occasional health problems, out-of-town travel or other commitments. Some council members are retired, but others hold full-time or part-time jobs.
Topping the list for regular attendance is Councilman Frank Tompkins. According to council records, Tompkins was present for every single meeting in 2012 that he was supposed to attend -- and he often showed up to listen during meetings of committees of which hes not a member.
Tompkins said he didnt realize his attendance was so sterling.
I never charted it. I just went when I was supposed to, he said.
Residents of Macon deserve an extraordinarily effective and competent council, since city actions directly affect peoples lives, Tompkins said. That means he should be at City Hall whenever possible to absorb information and pass on the concerns of residents who cant attend themselves, he said.
In less than 11 months a new nine-member commission will replace the Macon City Council and the Bibb County Commission. Many incumbents are expected to run for a commission seat, and their records may shed light on their commitment to the new government.
Tompkins said hes considering becoming a candidate and will be making an announcement at the proper time.
Councilman Lonnie Miley recorded the most absences from meetings in 2012. He missed 28, either committee meetings or nonvoting work sessions. Miley had a simple explanation for frequent absences.
I have to work for a living, he said. Im an investigator for the coroners office, and Im a funeral director.
Those arent predictable 9-to-5 jobs, and supporting his family will always come first, Miley said.
He hadnt planned another City Council term even if voters had rejected consolidation. And since hes an employee of the county coroners office, he isnt eligible for the new commission unless he quit that job, he said. Miley said that wont happen.
As a whole, council members averaged nine meeting absences in 2012. Following Tompkins with near-perfect attendance were Rick Hutto and Beverly K. Olson, with two absences each, and Henry Gibson with four.
Thats my job. Thats what I was elected for, said Olson, who said she plans to run for a seat on the new commission.
Gibson said his few absences were likely due to doctors appointments. Before he was elected to the council, he began attending meetings regularly and learned a lot from other members, he said.
If youre not there, youre going to miss something, Gibson said.
Gibson, who promised constituents that he would do his best, said he takes his council role seriously.
Whatever I do, I take it to the heart, he said.
He hasnt firmly decided on seeking a new commission seat, but hes leaning toward backing Council President James Timley if Timley runs.
Really Im kind of disgusted with politics, with whats going on, Gibson said.
After Miley, the poorest attendance was by Virgil Watkins, who missed 17 meetings; Henry Ficklin, who missed 16; Charles Jones, who missed 15; and Elaine Lucas, who missed 14.
Watkins admitted that when he wasnt at meetings from July until November, he was probably on the football field at Southwest High School. Hes a community coach there, and when he didnt consider a meetings agenda to contain crucial items -- especially nonvoting work sessions, which include discussion but not formal votes -- Watkins opted to keep coaching defensive linemen instead.
Hes considering a bid for the new commission, but he said he doesnt plan to announce his decision until the end of February.
Ficklin wasnt reached for comment; but Jones, for his part, noted that two-thirds of his absences were from nonvoting work sessions. Jones said he collects the information provided there and reads it later, and those issues are usually discussed in other meetings, he said.
Jones said he is strongly considering running for the new government.
Lucas said her absences were always for good reason.
Either Ive been sick; or my mother, whos been in a nursing home, needed my attention; or Ive been out of town, she said. Like others, Lucas said shes not ready to reveal her political intentions.
Ill be making an announcement next week, she said Friday.
To contact writer Jim Gaines, call 744-4489.