06/05/05 — Commissioners plan trip to Hawaii

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Commissioners plan trip to Hawaii

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on June 5, 2005 2:03 AM

Four members of the Wayne County Board of Commissioners and the board's clerk are planning to attend the annual convention of the National Association of County Commissioners next month in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The trip will cost Wayne taxpayers about $10,000.

Commissioners John Bell, Bud Gray, Andy Anderson, Chairman J.D. Evans and Clerk Marcia Wilson will spend four days on the trip, which comes with commissioners pondering a possible 10-cent increase in the tax rate. They have asked County Manager Lee Smith to look for places in the coming year's budget to trim costs.

Commissioner Atlas Price had signed up to attend the convention, but decided several days ago to cancel. The county has already paid $668 for his plane ticket, which is non-refundable. Price could reimburse the county for the ticket, if he decided to use the ticket for a personal trip.

Evans said he believes it is important the county is represented at the conference. He said he believes attending will help commissioners make better decisions on a variety of issues.

"It's where you learn a lot about the best practices of government and it helps us do a better job of governing," Evans said. "I don't know of a government anywhere that isn't facing financial problems or issues.

"The information we receive, the dialogues and the relationships we build are very important," he said.

Gray, who is in his first year on the board, said he believes it is important for him to attend so he can learn more about the job.Plans for the trip were made in February, he pointed out, before he understood the financial difficulties commissioners are facing.

Gray said he could pay the trip himself, if necessary.

"I don't mind paying my own way," he said. "I've been a volunteer fireman for the county for 49 years, so I believe in giving and helping my neighbors."

Anderson has consistently attended the national conventions, and said they are worth the expense, "if you go and really take advantage of all the sessions."

Last year, Evans, Anderson and Ms. Wilson attended the national conference in Phoenix, Arizona. In 2003, Bell, Evans, Anderson, Price and Ms. Wilson attended the conference in Milwaukee. A year earlier, Anderson, Bell, Evans, Price and Ms. Wilson attended the conference in New Orleans.

Besides the usual sessions, Anderson said he attends special transportation meetings at the convention because he is a member of a statewide commissioners' committee on transportation.

Right now, Anderson said, the county is being considered for a $7.5 million transportation grant.

"That's something I learned about at one of these conventions," he said. "We would never have known anything about applying for that grant otherwise."

Anderson has made his own arrangements for travel to Hawaii and will have to submit expense reports to be reimbursed by the county.

Anderson said he bought his own airplane ticket to get a lower price and said he plans to pay the additional costs associated with the trip because it's so far.

"I'll pay for the cost of the airfare between California and Hawaii," he said. "I don't want the county to pay extra because it's out of the continental United States."

Anderson is scheduled to stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Beach Resort & Spa for $195 per night, but he said he won't be charged the highest amount because he's a Hilton Club member. If the amount is higher than the other hotels, he said he will pay the difference.

Anderson also said he pays for most of his meals at the conventions.

Commissioner John Bell was unavailable for comment about the trip.

Bell, Evans, Gray and Ms. Wilson each have booked a room at the Sheraton Waikiki at a cost of $185 per night.

While in Hawaii, commissioners can choose to attend a number of seminars, including: "Achieving and Sustaining Superior County Leadership Performance," "Options and Strategies: Understanding and Adapting to Differences in Leadership Management Styles," "Cost Recovery Opportunities for County Government," and "Budgeting for Outcomes that Citizens Value."

Earlier this week Commissioner Jack Best urged board members to consider cutting their own travel expenses and salaries.

The annual pay for each commissioner is $8,018, except for Evans. As chairman of the board, he receives $10,021.

Since Best took office in April 2004, he has refused to accept a salary or mileage reimbursements from the county, saying he considers his position as a commissioner a "public service" job.