In an unprecedented rebuke, commissioners Randy Dallke and Dan Holub publicly called Tuesday for fellow commissioner Lori Lalouette to resign.
Their impassioned pleas at Tuesday’s commission meeting later joined in by commissioner-elect Dianne Novak, came four days after Lalouette left a Friday meeting without explanation — the latest in a series of absences, late arrivals and early departures, by the first-term commissioner, who represents western Marion County.
“Where did our other commissioner go?” Novak asked Friday as the commission prepared to vote on abandoning land set aside for a never-built street.
“Out the door,” Dallke answered.
“Must be recess,” interjected Holub, whom Novak will replace later this month after defeating him in November’s election.
“I didn’t hear a bell,” Dallke responded.
Minutes before, Lalouette had abruptly left the meeting room with cell phone in hand.
Thinking she might be close by, Dallke cupped his hands around his mouth and loudly called for her.
Dallke and Holub then roamed courthouse corridors in a vain attempt to locate her before deciding to go ahead and vote without her.
More than half an hour later, Lalouette returned, packed up her county laptop, put papers in her briefcase, spoke softly into county clerk Tina Spencer’s ear, and left.
According to Spencer, Lalouette, an attorney, needed to take care of something at the jail.
Dallke recalled the incident in his remarks to Lalouette at Tuesday’s meeting.
“Lori, you step up and jump up and run out of here,” Dallke said. “It reflects badly on all of us.”
Dallke also scolded her for not paying attention during meetings, arriving late, and leaving early. He said he’d heard complaints from many people in her district and he’d be glad to entertain her resignation. Her behavior is disrespectful, Dallke said.
Holub seconded the thought.
“When you run for political office, no one forces you to do it,” Holub said. “Whatever the agenda, you owe it to the public to show up. You don’t just drop and walk away from it. You owe the citizens, not just this board. It’s a total lack of respect.”
Lalouette, who arrived 41 minutes late for the meeting, made apologies for missed meetings and said last week’s departure was “an emergency.”
“I’ve been ill quite a bit and I’ve not wanted to share that,” she said.
By no means was Friday the first time other things have interfered with Lalouette’s duties as commissioner.
According to attendance records provided by Spencer, over the past two years the commission met 126 times.
Dallke missed two meetings, arrived late for 12 (for a total of 269 minutes missed), and never left early.
Holub was absent four times, never late, and left early once.
Lalouette, in contrast, was absent 24 times, late for 26 other meetings (for a total of 543 minutes missed), and left early six times.
All in all, she missed all or part of 44 percent of the meetings during the first two years of her four-year term as commissioner.
Commissioners are paid $18,096 a year, plus health insurance, regardless of how many meetings they attend.
Dallke was paid $574.48 for meetings he missed in their entirety over two years. Holub was paid $1,148.95. Lalouette, in contrast, was paid $6,893.76.
Carl Stovall of rural Marion, who lives outside Lalouette’s district, paid nearly $30 to obtain a copy of her attendance records before Friday’s meeting.
“We did the research, with him paying the staff time needed for Lori’s attendance,” Spencer said. “Afterward, I had my staff research the other two commissioners as well, in the interest of fairness and because I assumed there might be follow-up requests.”
However, Holub said that being an elected official required the officeholder to be mindful of his or her duties.
“Be there; it’s that simple,” Holub said. “Be there and listen and make judgments and live with it. Be available, be approachable and listen to your constituents.”
Dallke, who works as gas company serviceman, noted that public safety emergencies sometimes caused him to miss portions of meetings but that his employer, Atmos Energy, had been very accommodating of his official duties.
Novak said Tuesday that she agrees with Holub and Dallke that Lalouette should resign.
“I think she has already demonstrated her lack of competence in the job and she has no respect for the job,” Novak said. “She’s providing no representation for the voters in the 1st District. She actually hinders the commission by not being there and her tardiness, by not participating, and not giving her attention to the matters at hand. I totally support her giving a resignation. The excuses she offered for her attendance record are lame at best.”
Attendance was not the only point of tension to arise between Lalouette and Novak at Friday’s commission meeting.
Before Lalouette’s departure, Novak, present only as a visitor, had questioned a previous decision to replace what she termed “Lalouette Bridge,” which spans the Cottonwood River half a mile south of US-50 on Alfalfa Rd. The bridge leads to property owned by Lalouette’s parents.
Problems with the bridge initially were pointed out before Lalouette’s election in 2014.
After a presentation by Lalouette’s husband, Randy Crawford, who at the time was road and bridge superintendent, commissioners acknowledged in August 2013 that the bridge was the biggest structure in the county in bad shape and there were not many options besides replacement.
Commissioners voted at the time to begin getting the site ready for construction, with the state expected to cover all but $234,000 of the $1 million cost.
This past July, commissioners considered closing the bridge, already scheduled for replacement in April, to avoid having to pay for a $7,500 state inspection.
At the time, Lalouette questioned closing it earlier than necessary, contending it gets a lot of traffic.
“A lot of people in Florence use that bridge,” she said at the time.
Friday, when Novak questioned replacing the bridge, Lalouette cut in, talking about savings obtained by using grant money to replace it.
Novak looked at her and said, “Excuse me?”
Lalouette quieted, and Novak contended that traffic numbers used to justify replacement were inaccurate and that far fewer vehicles actually use the bridge.
Stovall, who initially requested Lalouette’s attendance records, also said after Tuesday’s meeting that what he also termed “Lalouette bridge” had figured in his decision to stoke the fires for her resignation or ouster.
In a 2,039-word email, Lalouette said she has several chronic medical conditions that make her prone to illness.
“Prior to be questioned about the absences, I felt it was private and did not make specific disclosures,” Lalouette wrote.
Lalouette said she spends a lot of time researching, and learning about county business has been a steep learning curve.