Attendance records kept by the Louisville Metro Council Clerk’s office show Councilwoman Mary Woolridge, D-3, has missed committee and council meetings for four straight months this year due to medical leave.
Since March 24, Woolridge has requested an excused absence for an undisclosed medical condition after a physician told her to “slow down at work,” according to Democratic caucus spokesman Tony Hyatt. As a result, she has missed a quarter of council meetings along with a number of dates as a member of the budget committee and chairwoman of contracts and appointments panel, which oversees city purchases, leases and reviews the mayor’s nominations to various boards.
Still, over a dozen city bills have passed through Woolridge’s office since then, including appropriations from her Neighborhood Development Fund account to area projects such as a grant to provide children with proper identification to use city run swimming pools.
Hyatt says Woolridge is not incapacitated and constituents shouldn’t worry because she remains actively engaged with the council’s agenda.
“She and her legislative aide have been taking care of District 3 business ever since and non-stop. She is still in contact, people can still call the District 3 office with concerns and she or her legislative aides are addressing them like they always have been,” says Hyatt.
No information about a lawmaker’s excused absences are tracked by Metro Government, however. The only records available are the roll calls kept from council meetings and because of their status as elected officials there a very few restrictions or guidelines for city lawmakers who take excused time off.
Council rules say a member only has to inform the council president or clerk’s office about the need to miss scheduled meetings and those absences have no set limit.
“It’s indefinite until that council member can come back to work,” says Council President Jim King, D-10, adding Woolridge hasn’t missed a beat. “She is able to watch all the proceedings on Metro TV and she’s fully aware of what’s going on in her district.”
For years observers had speculated about the health and well-being of the late George Unseld, who served as councilman for District 6 throughout a series of health problems before dying in office. During the 2008 campaign, his health became an issue and many constituents were left in the dark until Unseld disclosed his illnesses at different public meetings and debates.
Asked if the council should adopt a clearer policy that’s more transparent to the public when their member takes an extended time off, King says their current system works well enough but district residents should learn about their representative’s well being in due time.
“It’s a tough balance because health is generally a private matter, however, in the interest of good government I would expect over time that the constituents would become aware,” he says. “Certainly that’s part of the role of the media I guess. But I don’t know if it would be appropriate for the president of the council to make any sort of announcement to residents.”
It is expected Woolridge will return to her regular schedule in the coming weeks once her doctors are certain she can resume her full duties, but an exact time frame has not been set.