Republican Salt Lake County Council Chairman Michael Jensen dismissed an attack on his attendance record leveled Monday by his District 2 opponent, Democrat Paul Pugmire, and characterized the move as an unfortunate change of direction in the race.
"It makes me sad that somebody would choose to go negative in a campaign," Jensen said. "I would hope a candidate would prefer to talk about the things that they'll do in office."
Pugmire held a press conference Monday at the Salt Lake County Government Center where he distributed an analysis of Jensen's attendance record at the formal council meetings, typically held on Tuesday afternoons following the council's work session or "Committee of the Whole" meetings. Pugmire says Jensen's attendance record for those afternoon meetings, going back to 2005, is about 30 percent. This, he said, has raised his pique.
"I think we deserve someone who will show up," Pugmire said. "As a citizen, I'm outraged."
Jensen countered Pugmire's numbers with the assertion that those gatherings are not where the work of the council takes place, that his attendance record at the work sessions is very good, and that Pugmire's focus on those meetings points out a lack of familiarity with the council's structure.
"With Paul only being in the valley for a couple of years ... and being an outsider, it's clear he doesn't understand the workings of the council," Jensen said. "The Committee of the Whole meetings are where the real work of the council happens ... the 4 o'clock meeting is really where we validate what we've already debated."
Jensen said that he was not aware of any decision that was made during the work session being subsequently overturned in the council meeting and that there is an informal agreement among the council members not to do so.
As for attendance, a tally of Jensen's Committee of the Whole participation, compared with Pugmire's numbers on council meetings, shows some marked differences. Pugmire says Jensen missed 44 council meetings from 2005 through June of this year (a number Jensen did not dispute). A tally of Jensen's committee of the whole attendance, based on committee minutes, shows only 21 absences.
Councilman Joe Hatch said Tuesday that attendance numbers gathered from minutes don't always tell a complete picture. He noted that members can attend via phone, and still be counted as "present" and that a member who shows up for the beginning of a session, then leaves, is still tallied as having attended. Electronic attendance, Hatch said, really doesn't compare to being in chambers.
"If someone calls in for one issue, then is gone, is that quality participation," Hatch said. "Debate and discussion cannot occur effectively via the phone."Hatch also noted that Salt Lake County policy regarding wages and attendance are more generous than both Salt Lake City and the Utah Legislature. Hatch said the county pays members whether they attend or not, whereas both the city and state dock council/committee members for an absence.