Councilman takes leave for National Guard

City Councilman Eric Gerber won’t be attending meetings again until April 2009.

At last month’s City Council meeting Gerber announced his extended absence. He will be with the National Guard training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina, where he will serve as assistant chaplain.

At last week’s meeting, his nameplate marked the empty space, and the council isn’t sure yet it they will appoint someone to cover his position in the interim.

“It’s the quiet season,” said Mayor Jim Slowik, adding that he spoke with council members about the possibility of appointing someone to fill Gerber’s temporary vacancy while he is on military leave.

“It’s really the council’s choice,” he said. Gerber’s absence “won’t cause the council any problems especially if the council decides to appoint a temporary position.”

Because the council is finishing with the 2009-2010 budget and November is the start of the holiday season, Slowik says the council can still comfortably operate with six instead of seven less council members.

But come January, the council’s workload will once again increase.

“I’m concerned about it,” said the mayor, again bringing up the possibility the council may seek a temporary appointment to help with Gerber’s responsibilities.

“I’m concerned because I do not want to be voting in that. I rather have the council decide,” Slowik said of reaching quorum. The mayor normally does not cast a vote, but if not enough council members are present, he may have to cast a vote in order to reach quorum or break a tie, which is more likely with six council members.

Gerber will continue to receive his $562 monthly stipend and $495.97 health benefits while on leave. Council members’ stipends and benefits are paid out of the general fund, which is 70 percent funded by taxpayeer dollars, said Doug Merriman, city finance director.

Merriman said that no other city council member has taken an extended leave of absence since he started working with the city 11 years ago.

Bob Severns will take over Gerber’s role as Government Services chair and Danny Paggao will fill in as Public Safety chair.

In addition to Gerber’s absence, Councilman Rick Almberg is excused from five upcoming meetings: Dec. 16, Feb. 3 and 17, and March 3 and 17 for vacationing purposes. Almberg receives the same monthly stipend and benefits as Gerber. His benefits will also continue while he is away.

Slowik said that the council was well aware of Almberg’s European travel plans when he was elected last year.

Both councilmen will continue to receive benefits while they are away, including a stipend and health care coverage, said Slowik.

“Believe me, they really earn that stipend,” he said.

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