Which commissioners have the best (and worst) attendance?

The commission is currently debating whether to change the ACC Charter to lower the attendance requirement that is necessary before they can begin meetings or vote on matters that come before them. Commissioners are considering this change because extremely poor attendance by some of their colleagues at specially-scheduled meetings and executive sessions has caused some commission business to be delayed.

If the commission decides to lower quorum requirements, it will help them move forward with their business even when some members of the body are unwilling or unable to attend meetings. Quorum is currently set at seven, meaning that no meeting could begin without that number of commissioners present.

Attendance records show that this was a significant issue last year. Commissioners Mike Hamby and Ovita Thornton in particular had extremely poor attendance at voting sessions in 2021, with other commissioners also unable to attend on occasion. In total, commission attendance at voting sessions dropped from 94.1% in 2020 to 88.3% in 2021, with the majority of that drop due to a drastic decline in attendance from Hamby and Thornton.

Commissioner attendance graphic
Commission attendance at voting sessions (including special sessions) from January 1, 2020 until September 6, 2022.

In 2021, Thornton attended 66.7% of voting sessions in total, including both regular and specially-scheduled meetings. At special sessions, her attendance was even lower; she attended only 60% of special voting meetings that year. Hamby attended 69% of voting sessions in 2021 overall and had a phenomenally-low 57% attendance at specially-scheduled meetings. This was a large drop from previous years. Thornton attended 85% of voting sessions in 2020, whereas Hamby attended 90% of voting meetings that year.

This year both Hamby and Thornton have greatly improved their attendance compared to 2021. Both commissioners have been present at 88.5% of voting meetings so far in 2022.

Bar graph showing Hamby and Thornton's attendnace by year
Thornton and Hamby’s attendance at voting sessions by year.

[Attendance data comes from the ACC website and was processed using this commissioner attendance spreadsheet.]

Hamby did not respond to APN’s request for an interview and Thornton declined to comment. However, Hamby gave an explanation for his poor attendance at the commission’s September 6 meeting. He said that special-called meetings are sometimes difficult for him to attend due to scheduling conflicts, especially because he sometimes gets only 24 hours notice.

Other commissioners also have difficulty attending meetings from time to time. For example, Commissioner Allison Wright has attended only 76.9% of voting meetings so far in 2022. Former Commissioner Mariah Parker likewise struggled to attend meetings during both 2021 and 2022, dipping from an excellent 97.5% attendance in 2020 to only 81% from 2021-2022. However, Parker had the busiest schedule of any commissioner, having completed a PhD, given birth and released the Linqua Franca album ‘Bellringer’ over the past two years. 

In 2021, Parker missed a significant number of voting meetings while on maternity leave yet still attended six more meetings than Thornton and five more than Hamby over the course of the year.

At the September 6 meeting, Commissioner Melissa Link disagreed with Hamby’s explanation for the poor attendance of some commissioners, saying that scheduling conflicts were not the issue. “There’s been plenty of times when certain members of the body deliberately elected not to show up to discuss particular topics that they might have found uncomfortable,” Link said.

Commissioner Tim Denson, who has the best attendance of any commissioner over the past three years, agreed with Link’s assessment in a comment to APN.

“In 2021, we had a number of important executive sessions dealing with HR issues and some legal threats to the county,” Denson said. “These were heavy, difficult meetings and decisions that put a massive amount of stress on us. I felt that some commissioners were taking the easy way out, and the reason they had the privilege not to [go] is because there were other responsible commissioners who would show up in their absence.”

Although he did not mention her by name, Denson is likely referring to former ACC Internal Auditor Stephanie Maddox, who filed a lawsuit against the ACC government in 2021 alleging discrimination in the workplace and that she was fired for exercising her freedom of speech. Notably, Thornton and Hamby were not present at the meeting when Maddox was fired.

Denson stressed that he would have also preferred not to attend the 2021 meetings when the commission had to deal with difficult and stressful topics.

“Nobody wanted this to be happening,” Denson said. “If I felt like I had a choice to engage on this issue or not, I would have chosen not to. But I took a literal pledge, an oath, stating that I would do the work of this community. [Thornton and Hamby’s absence] put more stress on the rest of us to ensure that we were always there [for executive sessions in 2021].”

Although the problem of poor commission attendance at critical executive sessions has improved somewhat this year, Denson says that Mayor Kelly Girtz now realizes the problems that could occur if a minority of commissioners choose to stonewall the rest of the body on important topics. That’s why Girtz is putting the question of reducing quorum before the commission despite climbing attendance, according to Denson, something which Girtz seemed to confirm at the September 6 meeting

Even so, Denson says that he does not necessarily want to change the ACC Charter.

“I think it’s much more important for constituents to know who is not showing up and who is putting the county’s business under threat of not being done,” Denson said. “The voters should hold those commissioners accountable, rather than change the charter.”

Thornton did not have opposition during her last election. She is up for re-election in 2026. Hamby was re-elected in 2020 with 69.8% of the vote and is up for re-election in 2024.

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