Antioch Council chides City Clerk Simonsen over absence

By John Crowder

At the January 14, 2014 meeting of the Antioch City Council, City Clerk Arne Simonsen, got his hand slapped by the council for being absent from his duties since October 28th. The council adopted a resolution stating that if an elected official were absent for more than one month unrelated to his or her own medical condition, then the official would be encouraged to return salary, car allowance, and communication allowance (if any) to the City for the period of absence.

It was approved by Mayor Wade Harper, Mayor Pro Tem Mary Rocha and Council Members Monica Wilson and Tony Tiscareno. Councilman Gary Agopian left the meeting before the item was discussed.

One Antioch resident Karl Dietzel addressed the council about the matter, speaking out against what he called “your inflated salaries and benefits packages.” He suggested that each elected official be required to submit a monthly itemized expense report as a consent calendar item. He then stated that he would like to see the City Clerk resign.

Following public comments, Rocha spoke about the proposed resolution.

I pulled this item out,” she said, “but it wasn’t directly to the City Clerk itself, it was in place of ourselves.”

She then went on to mention times when she had missed Council meetings in order to attend to personal matters. She also stated, “It has to be related to a health issue, and personal issue, as well.”

After further discussion and advice from Lynn Tracy Nerland, the City Attorney, the Council, passed the resolution and directed her to draft a proposed ordinance with respect to the issue of absences.

Simonsen, who was at the meeting and fulfilling his duties, did not speak at the meeting about the item or his absence from town over the holiday season, which appeared to trigger the resolution.

A former Antioch City Council Member from 2000 to 2008, Simonsen was elected City Clerk in November, 2012. The position was made part-time in 2008.

As City Clerk, he currently receives a monthly stipend of $941.20 and a transportation allowance of $350 which is the same amount provided to each member of the Council and City Treasurer Donna Conley, the only other elected positions in the city government. Much discretion is given to each of the elected officials, with respect to how his or her duties should be fulfilled and there is no time requirements for any of the positions.

However, Simonsen has been notable for two reasons. First, upon election he immediately took steps to increase public access to the City Clerk’s office by moving his office back to the first floor in City Hall where the public can more readily meet with him. Second, he has kept office hours almost daily, and has filled in during times when his deputy has been absent.

When asked about his absence, Simonsen stated that he had been out of the country since the end of October due to a family issue, but noted that he stayed abreast of city business over the Internet during that time. He missed three council meetings during that time, but the Deputy City Clerk was at the meetings to handle the duties. Simonsen and his wife, who is from Scotland and has family there, own property in and have traveled to that country, many times in the past.

When asked why he spends so much time at City Hall even though it is not required of him, he said, “I believe in open government, and that means that the public must have access to government offices and officials in order to make good decisions.”

Prior to the council meeting, he had offered to reimburse Antioch the stipend he had received during his absence. With respect to the time he was away he said, “Family comes first, no matter what.”

In addition to the time he spends at City Hall, Simonsen is an appointee to several League of California Cities committees relating to city governance, including the Administrative Services Policy Committee and the Employee Relations Committee. As a member of these committees, he is frequently required to travel to sometimes days-long meetings. He also travels to other meetings related to development of the skills necessary for fulfilling the duties of City Clerk.

Simonsen said he uses the transportation allowance to attend the committee meetings to which he has been appointed and that he has never asked for reimbursement for costs above his monthly stipend.

Allen Payton contributed to this report.

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