When you place your vote for an elected official, there are some basic trusts you place in that person.
You expect that person to know more than you do about most or all of the matters they’ll be deciding.
You expect that person to communicate with you or any other constituent when necessary or desired, and to represent their interests.
You expect that person to show up.
As Sauk Valley Media reporter Pam Eggemeier wrote earlier this week, Sterling Alderman Bob Conklin hadn’t been showing up for many City Council meetings in the past few months. In fact, Conklin had attended only four council meetings so far this year.
That’s not good. That’s a violation of the trust between the voter, the constituent, and the elected official.
Conklin had a good reason for missing meetings. He started a new job, which has had inconsistent hours, resulting in him being at work when meetings are held.
That’s fine. Things happen. Elected officials move out of the area they represent. Elected officials’ work schedules or life situations change.
When that happens, and officials no longer are able to represent the people who elected them with any consistency, they must resign.
Ultimately, that’s what Conklin did. On Thursday morning, he announced that he was resigning as alderman, effective immediately. Two days earlier, when asked by our reporter, Conklin said that he had decided not to seek re-election next year.
Conklin was right to resign. He should have done it months ago.
That there is no attendance requirement for Sterling aldermen is concerning. That Conklin said he had been told by city leaders to continue doing what he was doing is even more concerning. Mayor Skip Lee this week called that a miscommunication. Whatever the case, city leaders should have been more forceful earlier on that it was not acceptable that Conklin was missing most meetings.
To a lesser degree, it is also concerning that Conklin continued to be paid $200 a month, the same as any other council member, despite missing most meetings.
Having elected officials be absent isn’t unique to Sterling.
In 2011, we reported that two members of the Morrison City Council had missed more than a quarter of its meetings in the past 2-plus years.
Later that year, we reported that a Lee County Board member had missed the past 18 months of meetings due to a health issue.
Currently, the Lee County Board has a member who hasn’t attended a board meeting since November 2016, also due to a health issue.
Again, there is almost always a valid reason when an elected official is absent on the job. But there is no valid reason for an elected official who can’t serve to continue to hold the office.
There are many voluntary service boards that have attendance requirements. Most governmental bodies do not have such requirements.
They should. It’s not unreasonable for, say, Sterling city government to require that its aldermen attend at least 75 percent of City Council meetings. Their constituents should demand at least that much.