COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) — An effort to bring more transparency and accountability to one town’s travel expenses gets tabled.
Ward 6 Columbus Councilman Bill Gavin Tuesday night suggested that all travel and training requests include a letter detailing the value of the trip to taxpayers and estimated costs before the conference. The final costs also would be disclosed to the council and the public.
City travel has been an issue in recent weeks because more than a dozen city officials spent as much as $12,000 attending the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Conference in Point Clear, Ala., last month. Another request on Tuesday night’s agenda was for a trip to Seattle, Wash. and another was to reimburse a city judge for the Point Clear trip.
The council decided to table the idea for more study after Ward 2 Councilman Joseph Mickens asked for a delay.
(See Councilman Gavin’s statement at the end of this story.)
On another issue, Columbus’ main convention center will be getting a major facelift starting early next year.
The City Council tonight approved a $2.4 million, 20-year loan from the Mississippi Development Bank to pay for major interior and exterior upgrades to the Trotter Convention Center.
Increased fees from Columbus Light and Water will make the $225,000 a year payment on the loan which carries a 4.55 percent interest rate.
The exterior work is expected to begin in February or March with interior work, including new bathrooms, sound and video system, an elevator and other improvements beginning next summer.
City leaders hope the changes will make the center a continued draw for everything from small conventions and training seminars to reunions, weddings and concerts.
COUNCILMAN BILL GAVIN’S STATEMENT ON TRAVEL ISSUE
Mayor and fellow council members, I intend to vote against tonight’s consent agenda, not because I necessarily disagree with its contents but rather because I have come to believe we are failing our responsibility to be accountable to ourselves, the community we are elected to serve and taxpayers.
I could ask for items to be moved to the policy agenda but that only would cause more tension, finger pointing, accusations, distrust and division. I don’t think that does any of us any good or promotes the kind of approach we have tried to take with city government.
But rather than simply vote no, I want to offer a solution, a solution with which I think we all can agree would provide additional transparency and valuable accountability.
I make a motion that in the future, all requests for travel or training, come with a detailed, written request from the department head or the person requesting the travel explaining the purpose of the travel, the benefit to the department and the people of the city, and an estimated cost. At the end of the training or travel, the full, itemized costs of the training, event, or activity will be disclosed publicly to the council and taxpayers. That way, we and the citizens can assess the original intent versus the actual accomplished goal and the cost.
Every one in government is having to assess its spending. We have made some mistakes in the past and let some things go that we shouldn’t have. We can’t take those back now. Yes, we have a significant amount of money in the budget for travel and training. That doesn’t mean we have to spend it. Some of us up here rather use some of that money to finance another police car or fund the library or work toward any number of other goals.
But if we are going to spend money on travel and training, regardless of the department, I think we have an obligation to be transparent, accountable, and answerable to taxpayers.
If the training or travel is that important, it should not be hard to explain the benefits and answer to the people who ultimately are the ones paying the bill.