Town Council discusses absences at workshop

JACKSON, Wyo. — The Jackson Town Council met on Oct. 11 for a special workshop. Amongst other topics, the council discussed the council’s rules, procedures, vacancies and specifically, absences from meetings.

Recently, councilors Jim Rooks and Jessica Sell Chambers exchanged a flurry of emails about recent absences. Rooks recently missed four consecutive meetings for medical treatment at a facility in Maryland. Rooks suffered a critical injury in 2019 when he was struck by a car while biking.

According to coverage by the Jackson Hole News&Guide, Rooks said in an interview that after the 2019 incident, “I was very depressed, and had a lot of anxiety. I was dealing with chronic pain for the first time in my life, real serious, intense chronic pain. For a while after my accident I was dealing with it in a very healthy manner, doing the PT, doing acupuncture. But as some of those resources faded, I just was not taking care of myself; not doing all the things I needed to be doing to get myself as healthy as possible. And in the end I started, you know, habitually using alcohol.

“So I went and got help,” Rooks added, referring to not only the chronic pain and alcohol abuse, but also the mental health issues he was having, which he said were exacerbated by the deaths of three friends by suicide over the last year or so.

During the meeting, Assistant Town Manager Roxanne Robinson presented the updated rules and procedures, noting changes to gender neutrality, friendly amendments, virtual meetings, and “options to allow council members to determine a certain amount that they could be excused and be able to attend virtually without the mayor’s permission.”

Sell Chambers took issue with the suggestion that the mayor would approve absences, “I don’t work for the mayor,” Sell Chambers said.

Town Attorney Lea Colasuonno responded saying, “You are elected by the public so there is one person who is the mayor and that seat carries with it more responsibilities—procedural and agenda oriented.”

According to the updated rules, if a council member misses four or more meetings, the council will then discuss the possibility of a vacancy. While they are not binding, it would lead to further discussion.

Sell Chambers also brought up salary and benefits, calculating that council members make a total of $62,000 per year, a figure confirmed by Finance Director Kelly Thompson, equalling $2,500 per meeting with 24 regular meetings.  “It’s no wonder people think we are getting paid too much and I don’t think we should take absences lightly,” she said.

Mayor Morton Levinson responded to that claim citing her records from holding a seat on the council for the past nine years, “Each year we have done anywhere between 70 and 100 for the year and those range from any number of hours.” Her estimated include workshops and regular and special meetings.

“I see where you are going with the very cut and dry amount of money per meeting,” Morton Levinson said. “Cash in pocket is more like $30,000”

Rather than outline each reason that would warrant an excused absence, town staff suggests medical leave is an excused absence and others will be discussed by the council.

Sell Chambers also brought up concerns about dress code and properly addressing members of the staff and council.

Councilor Jonathan Schechter brought up a comment about expanding rules in general. “Is this having a solution in search of a problem? That concerns me greatly,” Schechter said. “I think things work pretty well right now. No system is perfect.”

Rooks did not have any questions or bring up any discussion items during the section of the workshop. He did move both of the motions, directing staff to bring an updated version to the Oct. 18 meeting for first reading.

 

About The Author

Buckrail @ Lindsay

Lindsay Vallen is a Community News Reporter covering a little bit of everything; with an interest in politics, wildlife, and amplifying community voices. Originally from the east coast, Lindsay has called Wilson, Wyoming home since 2017. In her free time, she enjoys snowboarding, hiking, cooking, and completing the Jackson Hole Daily crosswords.

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