Councilman's absence at civic event draws criticism
The Price City Council held a special meeting on Monday evening to discuss the duties of the council and to make sure that every council member is on the same team fulfilling their commitments.
The meeting, which was attended by all city council members and other city employees, was held to help air out problems the council has seen taking place, especially since the beginning of the year.
Much of the meeting focused on questions from council members about fellow Councilman Jeff Nielson, including following through on commitments to the city and his attendance at functions within the city.
While the council discussed a few issues they have seen with Nielson in his duties as a council member, one event in particular stood out. Last Wednesday, a ribbon cutting was held at the renovated National Guard Armory and Price City council members were on hand to not only attend the event, but also to sign a community covenant recognizing the efforts of those who have served and are currently serving the country. Nielson was the only council member who was not in attendance.
Price City Mayor Joe Piccolo said that Nielson made a commitment to be at the Armory when the council was informed of the event. Piccolo also said Nielson was notified and reminded of the ribbon cutting the night before and shortly before the event was to begin.
Piccolo said he felt it was important for the city council to have a presence at the event because the city was signing the covenant and was there to show support for those serving the country. Nielson's lack of presence at the ribbon cutting at the Armory was an "embarrassment for the council" and was one reason for the special meeting being held but not the only one, he said.
"If as a member of the council we commit to do something, we do it," Piccolo said. He said that Nielson didn't apologize and explain his reasons for not being at the ribbon cutting for three days.
Nielson said he did make a commitment to be at the ribbon cutting, but admitted to making a mistake by not making it to the event. He said he was involved in a phone call that morning lasting about two hours during which the text he received about the event was not received.
After apologizing for his absence at the ribbon cutting, Nielson questioned why a special meeting needed to be held to bring up issues affecting him, equating it to the other council members ganging up on him about one incident.
"This is a little strange to me," Nielson explained about his feelings of the meeting. "I didn't see this as a problem before." He said he first heard of a special meeting being called for last Friday.
Councilman Richard Tatton said the meeting was not about the city council ganging up on Nielson, but rather making sure that everyone on the council is on the same page and are completing their obligations and commitments in their positions on the council.
Nielson read out many of the meetings he has attended since the beginning of the year, saying he has been to 86 percent of the advertised meetings. He read from prepared notes explaining that Councilwoman Kathy Hanna-Smith and Mayor Piccolo have also attended 86 percent of meetings this year.
"It's not just about attendance," Piccolo said of the reason that a meeting was being held. City council members have many different meetings they attend as part of their job responsibilities including a workshop meeting with the city council on the first Friday of each month. They also attend legislative functions and attend meetings for responsibilities as part of the work on the council.
Nielson has left city workshop meetings early due to other commitments and even missed one council meeting last year because he just forgot one was scheduled to take place, according to Hanna-Smith. She also said that Nielson has attended city meetings but did not prepare in advance to report on his duties.
Citing his work with businesses he owns and family responsibilities, Nielson said it can be difficult to make each and every function the city council attends. He noted that other council members including Jeanne McEvoy and Rick Davis are retired and therefore have the time to be able to attend city gatherings.
"We all have to make a living and we have other commitments," Nielson said.
While other council members may be retired or not working full-time, Piccolo said their time is still valuable to them and the work they do for the city.
"Time is a very valuable commodity," Piccolo said. "We're all going to miss meetings from time to time."
The council agreed that holding a meeting was productive way of discussing problems that needed to be looked at as a group. While an option was put forth to reassess the situation in a few months and see if Nielson was following through on the city council's requests, council members ultimately turned down the proposal citing they had confidence that Nielson would follow through on everything discussed at the meeting.
"We're going to go forward and get better from here," Davis said. "Every one of us has to get better."
"Can we get better as a city council? Absolutely we can," Hanna-Smith said.
Although he felt that the meeting with the entire city council was unnecessary, Nielson said after the meeting that there is room for improvements to be made.
"If I could do it over [Armory ribbon cutting], I would have been there 100 times," Nielson said.