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Local officials have solid record of meeting attendance
Elected bodies required to take roll call at beginning of meetings
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Hall County's city, county and state elected officials have a good record of attending their monthly meetings.

Since January 2009, each member of the Gainesville and Hall County governments and school boards have been present for at least 86 percent of their work sessions and voting meetings.

"More than 70 percent of Georgia's municipalities are holding qualifying soon and elections are this November, so this is a very important aspect to note," said Amy Henderson, public information manager for the Georgia Municipal Association.

"Voters have elected these officials to do a job, and there's an expectation that they will show up for work."

In addition, officials must attend committee meetings, community dinners and neighborhood forums.

"It takes a lot of time and dedication to be in these positions, and we often hear during an election year that new people are reluctant to run even if they have something to offer because of the time," Henderson said. "When you have people with jobs, family, hobbies and other community commitments, it can be quite a time-draining endeavor."

For example, Gainesville Mayor Ruth Bruner and council member Myrtle Figueras are traveling to Atlanta this week to judge essays for the statewide "If I Were Mayor" contest.

"We always seek out the best and brightest to help, so there's an additional time strain when we ask them to help or to show up at the Capitol to talk about legislation," Henderson said. "I don't know how they have the energy sometimes."

Elected bodies are required to take attendance at the beginning of meetings and include it in the minutes, which are kept in record books. Hall County Schools, Gainesville City Schools and Hall County Board of Commissioners also feature the minutes online.

Gainesville City Council posted its minutes online until it launched a new website in December, and staff members now are learning how to add updated minutes to the new site.

"First and foremost, you have to ensure that you have a quorum for the meeting to go forward," Henderson said. "These records will live on forever, and it's important for future generations who may be looking back at who was in attendance. It's part of the community history and public documents."

Under the Gold Dome, each chamber takes a roll call as the first order of business for the day and logs it in a journal kept in each clerk's office. The Senate counts the attendance of each member online, but the House only posts the full number on its site.

"If a member doesn't make the role call vote in the morning — for example, somebody's car breaks down — they can go in and circle their names later that day and initial it to be reflected as present," said Marshall Guest, spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston.

State officials typically make it to the Capitol for each day of the 40-day legislative session, though they may be excused from parts of the floor sessions to attend committee or constituent meetings.

"Typically when the House is in session, folks will be in the ante room talking about legislation with fellow members or summoned to come before the ropes to talk to constituents or lobbyists or anyone who has handed a note to a page," Guest said. "There are all kinds of reasons why people may not be in their seats, but they're conducting business. It's just a busy time."

Hall County commissioners sign affidavits each month that record how many meetings they attended. For some months, such as April and May when graduation ceremonies and community cookouts are popular, this could mean more than 30 events per month and sometimes two or three per day.

"It's very important to stay in tune with what's going on in the community and know what the constituents expect of you," said Gainesville Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan. "It even ended up being a bigger time commitment than I thought it would be when I first started, but if you want to do your job well, you've got to participate."

This often includes department meetings or information sessions with other governments.

"The nature of what the commission does is make decisions as the legal advisory board for the county, and it's not possible to do that unless you have information from staff, citizens and others," Commissioner Craig Lutz said Friday at Gainesville's annual public utilities department workshop.

"Otherwise we would sit at the monthly board meetings and make decisions without all the accurate input."

Lutz ascribes to the same principle suggested to college students: Spend three hours studying outside of class for each hour spent in class.

"I've been asked how much time you should put in as an elected official, and that depends on how good you want to be," he said. "All that's required is sitting in that monthly meeting and making a vote, or you can get out in the community, which doesn't include the phone calls and emails you answer each day."