(WBIR-Knoxville) Roughly three years ago, Knox County Commissioner Amy Broyles volunteered to serve on the audit committee, a key panel that investigates financial waste, fraud and abuse in county government.
She then missed the committee's first two meetings and four of its first seven, setting up what appears to be a pattern of absenteeism since winning re-election.
In fact, Broyles, who again took office in September 2010 and represents North Knoxville, has missed almost 30 percent of the meetings that she's assigned to attend either by virtue of her office or by her own request.
Some of her peers have privately chastised the Democrat behind her back, or rolled their eyes in public when she missed roll call. Her absences also aren't lost on the local social media world where some bloggers, including conservative Brian Hornback, have taken to calling her "No Show Broyles."
The criticism, though, doesn't bother the 2nd District commissioner. And Broyles, who is half way through her current term in office, said that "they can think what they want." She also said that her absenteeism has never derailed county business.
"I don't stay out of meetings just because I don't feel like going," she added. "We all take our jobs seriously. We worked hard to get where we are and none of us are just going to brush it off."
Broyles, though, isn't the only one on the commission's 11-member board to skip out, and no one has perfect attendance. R. Larry Smith has missed the fewest meetings – a low 2 percent – and Sam McKenzie has missed 15 percent of them – the second most.
However, Broyles has missed more scheduled governmental meetings – 47 out of a possible 176 – than any commissioner, Knox County School Board member, or Knoxville City Council member according to a WBIR study that compared attendance records from September 2010 through this past summer.
"I guess the issue that is the most relevant is whether the commission's business is getting done," said Mark O'Gorman, an associate professor of political science at Maryville College. "If she chooses to miss them, then that's her choice and the people who elected her can hold her accountable. But if the commission's business is not getting done, then that can be more serious."
The WBIR analysis looked only at governmental boards and panels that met at least quarterly. For Broyles that's the commission, the beer board, the zoning board, the audit committee, education committee and the charter review committee.
The boards, composed either entirely or mostly of other commissioners, discuss a number of issues essential to the county's livelihood, like finances, education, economic growth, community development, and rules and regulations.
There are no penalties for missing them, but members make decisions that affect the area short term and long term, and they vote.
Commissioners who spoke with WBIR about this story declined to specifically address Broyle's absenteeism, but talked about the importance of attendance.
"You sign on and certain things are expected," said Commissioner Dave Wright, who has a 97 percent attendance record. "And if you think about just commission meetings, they're just twice a month, so it's really expected."
Commissioner Mike Brown, who has a 94 percent attendance record, agreed.
"We're all elected to represent our district, so we should be there," he said. "There are so many times in commission meetings where we have to satisfy someone's question that could have been asked the week before in a work session if they had bothered to show up."
Overall, Broyles missed four monthly voting sessions on the commission and seven work sessions – monthly meetings in which officials are initially briefed about major issues and have a chance to ask questions and get into more detail about the matters.
While she was absent, officials discussed the annual budget; whether to hold prayer before the meetings; the extension of a controversial contract with the former Knoxville Tourism and Sports Corporation; an anonymous teacher survey; moving the Belle Morris Elementary School Precinct; education bonuses for employees; parking garage fee increases, and a billboard ordinance.
The commission meets as the beer board right before its monthly voting session to discuss alcohol permits and violations, and then reconvenes as the zoning board following the voting session. In the past three years, Broyles missed nine beer board meetings and 10 zoning meetings.
Additionally, Broyles, who volunteered in September 2010 to serve on the county's 5-member audit committee, has missed roughly 40 percent of the 18 meetings it has held. Commissioner Ed Shouse, who also serves on the committee, hasn't missed any. The commission's third representative, Dave Wright, missed two.
Broyles, a member of the charter review committee assigned to analyze the county's governing documents, skipped 7 of 12, or 60 percent, of those meetings, which took place from mid-February 2012 through late August that year.
The panel, which included the nine district commissioners, discussed a number of hot button items, including whether to close the Sheriff's Office pension plan; clarifying the definition of a "term" for elected officials; the resizing of commission; and the appointment rather than the election of fee officers and the county law director.
In late January, Broyles asked to serve on a joint education committee, a panel comprised of commissioners and school board members and designed to mend the contentious relationships between the two sides.
She then missed the group's first three of five meetings. The commissioner said one absence was because her oldest daughter gave birth and she wanted to be with her.
During those meetings, officials talked about finances, budgetary matters, school property, and security.
Broyles, 45, blamed her absenteeism mostly "due to medical reasons." She stressed, however, that she was absent only if she was ill or if her children needed her with them. She also said she missed meetings while "representing commission at NACO or at the Tennessee Summitt on Women."
"For the record, I had two brain surgeries, plus eight kidney stones and the tumor," she said.
In September 2008 she had brain surgery to combat trigeminal neuralgia, a disorder that causes pain the victim's face. She had an unrelated surgery in September 2011 to remove a benign tumor on her parathyroid gland in her neck.
At the time, she sent a note to her constituents, telling them that "the past year in particular has been very difficult," and that she experienced fatigue and pain.
"When I was in the hospital I would watch meetings on TV, and believe me, I'd much rather be at the meeting than having to watch them while in this hospital," she said recently.
She stressed, though, that "when there's something important on the agenda that I know is going to be a close vote, then no matter how sick I feel, I'll try to be there."
But, "if it's fairly routine or there's not going to be a vote, then I might not make it if I'm not feeling well," she said.
Broyles took issue with some of the criticism, adding: "I'm so grateful that they have good health. It's one of the greatest gifts – to be healthy."
A stay-at-home mother of two, she said much of a commissioner's work is done outside the meetings and in the community.
"There's more to representation than being at meetings," said Broyles, whose term expires in 2016. "They're certainly critical, but if I miss one, then I always try to find out what happened."
Broyles typically advertises meetings, as required by state law, and meets individually with other commissioners. She also occasionally holds court at the Time Warp Tea Room, a sandwich shop off North Central, where a number of officials meet to talk about local government. And, she said, she tries to attend many of the neighborhood meetings in her district.
"It's supposed to be a 20-hour-a-week job, but I know a lot of us put in a lot more," she said.