Ithaca, N.Y. — The Ithaca Journal reported Thursday that Tompkins County Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera now has registered the worst attendance record among her fellow lawmakers for six consecutive years.
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Herrera has been paid the salary for legislators — about $19,000 for the part-time position — since at least 2009.
But if Herrera was missing so many meetings, how did she still qualify for a county legislator salary?
Records obtained by The Voice show that despite missing 28 percent of county meetings, Herrera says she worked at least 26.68 days per month for an average of six hours a day.
In other words, though missing more than 25 percent of meetings, Herrera says she is working about 160 hours a month as a county legislator, according to records. That’s more than almost any other legislator.
(The Ithaca Journal says its attendance record is based off of attendance for 24 legislature meetings, eight county budget meetings and regular committee meetings.)
Herrera, first elected in 2001, was required to submit to the county an accounting of how she spent her working hours for the first three months of 2010. That 2010 log, also obtained by The Voice, shows that Herrera spent dozens of hours on routine correspondence and sending emails.
For subsequent years, she is allowed to simply say the number of hours she worked — and therefore isn’t required to provide a detailed account of her activity in 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014, according to Tompkins officials.
Herrera has not returned requests for comment from either The Voice or The Journal.
Fewest meetings, second-most work?
Despite the worst attendance record over the same period of time, Herrera says she worked about 160 hours a month over the last several years.
That means she’s claiming to be the second-hardest working county legislator — behind only Tompkins legislator Martha Robertson, who ran for Congress recently — as she also misses the most meetings.
Herrera’s 26.58 days per month at 6 hours a day is ahead of Mike Lane, chair of the legislator, who reported 25.08 days per month.
It’s far more time than legislators Carol Chock (17.55 days); Daniel Klein (22.66); David McKenna (21.75); and nearly every other legislator.
County legislators respond
Lane, the chair, said questions about Herrera’s attendance record would best be answered by her.
Lane added that spending over 10 hours a week on emails didn’t seem unreasonable and said that “a lot of the time spent by an elected official is spent outside” the legislature.
Lane also said that Herrera is a productive member of the legislature when in attendance and often responds to emails promptly.
“We don’t go around and question each others’ outside work,” Lane said.
Similarly, county legislator Mike Sigler said he didn’t know enough to speculate about how much work Herrera does outside the legislature.
“I don’t know what she does outside of meetings,” Sigler said.
Like Lane, Sigler added that there’s a lot of work that gets done outside of meetings by legislators.
“People certainly spend a lot of time out in their districts,” he said.
Still, Sigler said it can be frustrating for legislators when other members miss meetings because that makes it hard to know their positions on certain issues relevant to their constituents.
“If they’re not at the meeting I don’t know where they stand on certain things,” Sigler said.
How did Herrera spend her time?
Given that she has had the worst attendance record for 6 years, how did Herrera also say she worked 160 hours a month?
Here’s 3 notes from her logs, which can be read in full below:
1 — The first week of January
Let’s take a sampling from the first page. Here’s part of what Herrera said she did to work 57.5 hours in the first week of January:
On Jan. 1, 2010, Herrera says she spent 170 minutes on “routine correspondence.” That was followed by 115 minutes of “correspondence” on Jan. 2, as well as 30 minutes of returning phone calls, 150 minutes of using social media and an additional 120 minutes of “routine correspondence” on Jan. 3.
Herrera billed an additional 120 minutes for “routine correspondence” on Jan. 4, followed by 180 minutes of returning phone calls the same day, plus an additional 60 minutes of returning phone calls the same day.
2 — Meeting for breakfast
On March 20, Herrera says, she worked 7 hours and 45 minutes. Three of those hours came from “breakfast OB with constituent,” according to the records.
3 — Routine correspondence and phone calls
The vast majority of the time spent by the legislator appears to have been on what is listed as “routine correspondence” and returning phone calls.
Other uses of her time as a legislator include preparing for meetings, talking to county department heads and attending conferences.