Julio Tavarez, the 5th Ward councilman, who had been absent from regular meetings for the last three months, showed his face in the City Council chamber on Tuesday, when many where astonished to see him, and others came hoping to levy their displeasure at the councilman’s lengthy absence.
When Tavarez walked into the chamber, one of the regular attendees, who appeared surprised at the appearance, exclaimed: “Councilman!” Another individual, clearly irritated at his absence, remarked, “It’s about time.” Criticism of the 5th Ward councilman was not limited to just snarly remarks during his entrance into the meeting, it extended into the public portion, when members of the public are allowed to give small three-minute speeches to elected officials.
Luis Velez, a local activist, a 5th Ward resident, came to inform residents that even when their representative is absent from public meetings — referring to Tavarez — there are alternatives, he said, “If your problem cannot be resolved with the present council member, there are other other council-members-at-large willing to help with your problem.”
Velez concluded his remark by ironically saying, “Residents of 5th Ward you are not abandoned, you got a committed leader, Luis Velez, that could get your problems solved.” The equip earned Velez a scathing response from Tavarez who responded by attacking Velez’s character calling him a “known corrupt individual in our community.”
The censure extended to Andre Sayegh, the council president, who has a chummy relationship with Tavarez; one member of the audience got up when it was his time to speak, looking at Sayegh, said, “When you was here — oh you guys were best friends — he was ticked-off for you like you was his girl friend,” the remark received roars of laughter from the audience. During his last appearance in July, the 5th Ward councilman traveled from Ohio to make it in time to cast a decisive vote to elect Sayegh as the council president.
Tavarez disappeared for almost three months after casting that vote in July in support of his friend; it was indicated that Tavarez was still in touch with Sayegh. Information emerged that Tavarez was in Ohio completing an internship that would result in a Master of Business Administration degree. And his experience at the internship were to help the city in someway.
Council members criticized the absences, asserting that the taxpayers should not have to subsidize the education of elected officials. Information obtained from the city showed that during the past year Tavarez had missed almost half of the regular meetings — more than any other sitting council person.
A reporter from another newspaper confronted Tavarez after the meeting had ended asking him whether he had obtained his MBA and when exactly he planned to provide a previously indicated presentation that’s to help the city. It was reported by the Record that Tavarez would, upon his return give a presentation to the council, explaining what he had learned during his internship in Ohio that would further the city’s interests. There was no presentation last night. When hounded by the reporter Tavarez, without responding to any of the questions, went inside his office and slammed the door on the inquisitor.
A resolution finalized with a second hearing last night allows for salary reduction to chronically absent members of the council: if a member does not show up to attend meetings regularly a pay reduction serves as a disincentive to encourage them to attend meetings and look out for their constituent’s interests. “If I don’t go to work,” said a community activist who took his three-minutes at the podium, “I won’t get paid.”