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Augusta commissioners travel often at taxpayer expense

Saturday, Nov. 30, 2013 4:03 PM
Last updated Sunday, Dec. 1, 2013 1:10 AM
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Most Augusta Commission members take advantage of a perk of the job: travel.

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Mary Davis has taken six trips, including to Athens, Ga., Atlanta, Pine Mountain, Ga., Savannah, Ga. and Tifton, Ga.  EMILY ROSE BENNETT/FILE
EMILY ROSE BENNETT/FILE
Mary Davis has taken six trips, including to Athens, Ga., Atlanta, Pine Mountain, Ga., Savannah, Ga. and Tifton, Ga.

One or more members of the city’s governing body have traveled to at least 26 out-of-town conferences – from Athens, Ga., to Pittsburgh, Chicago and Seattle – over the past two years, with more planned as the year ends, according to accounting records and credit card statements obtained by The Augusta Chronicle.

During the period, commissioners registered 159 hotel nights, each costing $100 or more per night.

While the commission struggles to balance next year’s budget without raising taxes and fees, forcing departmental cuts or raiding savings, each out-of-town conference costs taxpayers in multiple ways. In addition to registration fees, hotel charges and membership dues, there are “per diem” travel advances issued to each commissioner for daily expenses, whether meals are included or not, airfare for long-distance travel and individual mileage payments for a group that rarely shares a ride.

The consolidated government’s status as both city and county provides an opportunity for “double-dipping.”. The group attends both state and national events for cities, including events held by Georgia Municipal Association and National League of Cities, and events for counties, including those held by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and National Association of Counties.

The apparent leader in travel is two-term District 5 Commissioner Bill Lockett, a retired federal worker who has attended at least 14 events outside Augusta since January 2012, including April’s American Planning Association conference in Chicago, the July National Association of Counties annual conference in Fort Worth, Texas, and last month’s National League of Cities convention in Seattle.

Lockett, known to speak about his affinity for furthering his education, received $5,218 for expenses during the period for 28 ½ days of travel at a daily rate that ranged from $39 to $56, plus 40.5 cents for each of 3,188 vehicle miles. He did not return a call seeking comment.

Those payments are in addition to hotel charges, airfare, conference registrations and membership dues found on records that rarely specify a commissioner by name.

Three nights at the Georgia Center in Athens for the annual Current Ad Valorem Edicts and Trends conference for Lockett, ex-officio member of Richmond County Board of Assessors, cost $297 each year. Five nights at the Omni Fort Worth hotel cost the city an average of $229 each night. Commissioner Mary Davis’ fall stay at the boutique Hotel Indigo in Athens cost $268.

Lockett and commissioners Alvin Mason, Bill Fennoy, Corey Johnson and Marion Williams, who attended the National Association of Counties conference in Fort Worth, garnered some $430 each in per diems that included $150 each for baggage and taxi fees. Airfare out of Augusta to Dallas cost $261.50 per commissioner.

Among the 10 sitting commissioners, only three – Joe Jackson, Grady Smith and Wayne Guilfoyle – limited out-of-town travel during lean city budget years to four or fewer trips in two years, including four commissioners who took office this year. Although all were paid individually for mileage and meals, term-limited Jackson attended only three annual ACCG or GMA conferences in Savannah, receiving $824.30 for 834 miles of driving and nine days’ expenses.

Reached Friday, Jackson said he carpooled with Guilfoyle on occasion to events but had forgotten that commission clerk Lena Bonner calculates travel advances based on miles driven.

“In defense of the newly elected officials, there’s certain basics that you have to have,” while others may overindulge, Jackson said. “It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go to all these trainings.”

Georgia law requires that commissioners attend a training session for newly elected officials during their first year of office, although they can opt to become “certified” and maintain their certification by completing a certain number of GMA or ACCG course hours.

Guilfoyle attended four events, two ACCG conferences and a GMA event in Savannah as well as the January 2012 GMA “Mayor’s Day” celebration at Hilton Atlanta. He joined Mayor Deke Copenhaver, Johnson, Lockett, Smith and a city administrator, commission clerk and city attorney, according to the records.

Smith and Johnson, two of four commissioners to also use a city gas card, each gassed up during the dates of the Mayor’s Day conference, in addition to receiving payment for 300 miles of travel to Atlanta and per diem expenses.

AUGUSTA COMMISSIONER TRAVEL*

Mary Davis

Destinations: Athens, Ga.; Atlanta, Pine Mountain, Ga.; Savannah, Ga.; Tifton, Ga.

Number of trips: 6

Travel advances: $1,427.58

Miles driven: 1,798

Hotel nights: 11

Bill Fennoy

Destinations: Chicago; Fort Worth, Texas; Savannah, Ga.; Seattle; Tifton, Ga.

Number of trips: 7

Travel advances: $3,583.95

Miles driven: 1,006

Hotel nights: 19

Wayne Guilfoyle

Destinations: Atlanta; Savannah, Ga.

Number of trips: 4

Travel advances: $1,026.30

Miles driven: 1,134

Hotel nights: 7

Joe Jackson

Destination: Savannah, Ga.

Number of trips: 3

Travel advances: $824.30

Miles driven: 834

Hotel nights: 6

Corey Johnson

Destinations: Athens, Ga.; Atlanta; Columbus, Ga.; Fort Worth, Texas; New Orleans

Number of trips: 10

Travel advances: $3,587.49

Miles driven: 2,268

Hotel nights: 27

Bill Lockett

Destinations: Athens, Ga.; Atlanta; Chicago; Fort Worth, Texas; Pine Mountain, Ga.; Seattle

Number of trips: 14

Travel advances: $5,218.50

Miles driven: 3,188

Hotel nights: 34

Alvin Mason

Destinations: Athens, Ga.; Atlanta; Fort Worth, Texas; Pittsburgh; Seattle

Number of trips: 10

Travel advances: $3,091.90

Miles driven: 1,958

Hotel nights: 24

Donnie Smith

Destinations: Athens, Ga.; Atlanta; Pine Mountain, Ga.; Savannah, Ga.

Number of trips: 5

Travel advances: $1,184.33

Miles driven: 1,348

Hotel nights: 11

Grady Smith

Destinations: Atlanta; Savannah, Ga.; Young Harris, Ga.

Number of trips: 3

Travel advances: $762.50

Miles driven: 958

Hotel nights: 5

Marion Williams

Destinations: Fort Worth, Texas; Savannah, Ga.; Seattle; Tifton, Ga.

Number of trips: 5

Travel advances: $1,752.45

Miles driven: 1,006

Hotel nights: 15

*Since January 1, 2012; travel advances cover mileage and expenses but not hotel, conference or airline charges

 Source: Augusta Commission and finance department records

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deestafford
27774
Points
deestafford 11/30/13 - 08:55 pm
15
1
Shoot, I don't about y'all but I shutter to think of what kind

of shape our government would be in if our commissioners had not been doing all that traveling and getting educated and trained.

Maybe one day in the distant future in a time far, far away, someone will invent some type of picture machine that can send pictures through the air or on some type of recording device so people won't have to suffer and sacrifice having to do all that burdensome travel. When that time comes it could be called something like...oh, I don't know---maybe "distant learning" could be the title.

Just sayin'.

raul
4899
Points
raul 11/30/13 - 09:36 pm
14
2
Travel and training should be

Travel and training should be the first to be cut in a budget crisis.

GiantsAllDay
9600
Points
GiantsAllDay 11/30/13 - 10:00 pm
14
1
Buncha crooks.

Buncha crooks.

Dixieman
15050
Points
Dixieman 11/30/13 - 11:20 pm
18
1
I do not mind their travel at all

What I DO mind is their coming back to Augusta!
I will be glad to approve an unlimited amount in the Commission budget for one-way tickets for every one of them.

Brad Owens
4468
Points
Brad Owens 11/30/13 - 11:52 pm
10
2
CUT! CUT! CUT!

It's spelled.. D-E-F-I-C-I-T

Riverman1
84226
Points
Riverman1 11/30/13 - 11:55 pm
11
2
Two Questions

Mayor Deke Copenhaver?

Columbia County Commissioners' trips in comparison?

rebellious
20780
Points
rebellious 12/01/13 - 03:33 am
6
11
Sorry, but I disagree

with those who think travel should be cut. Commissioners have a four year term. I want them to learn as much as they can from outside sources to help bring fresh ideas to improve our community. Is there opportunity for excess? Sure, but with the watchdogs of the media, it would be brought to light.

I just wish we could see more creative ideas rather than things like designating sections of the city as "Slums".

dickworth1
954
Points
dickworth1 12/01/13 - 06:53 am
10
2
Really
Unpublished

Do you really think these trips are about learning how to be a better commissioner? Bulletin, Bulletin.....it is not working! Stay home and learn,
I mean literally stay home. That's the problem with our voters, it is each of our responsibility to check into candidates and vote for the best candidate based on facts, not fiction or skin color. The voters are to be blamed for what we have as commissioners, not the candidates, so when you get upset with the commissioners don't vote them back into another term. Be responsible and do your homework on each candidate and not listen to heresay.

nocnoc
42783
Points
nocnoc 12/01/13 - 07:25 am
7
7
Lets get real here

This is a drop in the bucket and little more than a distraction from the real budget issues facings ARC.

As indicated in the article a number of these trips are required by Ga law, and it is a good thing they are. Imagine our commissioners running around doing things that were not according to OCGA and Ga Municipal Code operational reg's?

Best of all it also eliminated the excuse they did not know what ETHICS and proper spending of Taxpayer $$$$ were.

Besides it was no surprise here when it was documented
that the DOWNTOWN Gang of 5 were our top spenders.

Bill Lockett $5,218.50
http://www.augustaga.gov/images/pages/N652//lockett2010.jpg

Corey Johnson $3,587.49
http://www.augustaga.gov/images/pages/N652//CoreyJohnson1.jpg

Bill Fennoy $3,583.95
http://www.augustaga.gov/images/pages/N652/Commissioner%20William%20Fenn...

Alvin Mason $3,091.90
http://www.augustaga.gov/images/pages/N652//Alvin%20Mason.jpg

Marion Williams $1,752.45
http://www.augustaga.gov/images/pages/N652/Commissioner%20Marion%20Willi...

Kind of reminds me of the Mayor McIntyre days 1981+ and who was enjoying themselves on the Taxpayers nickle.

But let us put this in the proper prospective.
We are talking about $25K here, a drop in the bucket regarding the bigger picture of their spending habit. Downtown Improvements.

How about an Article on the %'s where taxes are
collected, along with a listing that shows by %'s where they are spent?

myfather15
55706
Points
myfather15 12/01/13 - 08:11 am
9
1
Scumbags!! Having fun on the

Scumbags!! Having fun on the taxpayer dollars!! They do NOT need this many trips and conferences, maybe ONE a year.

If you are NOT a leader, no class will teach you how to be one, period!!

seenitB4
87456
Points
seenitB4 12/01/13 - 08:45 am
3
6
Drop in the bucket is right

Please folks....this is peanuts compared to the real draw down of resources....really, I kinda thought the sum of travel was lower than most.....around these parts (Atlanta) the travel expense would blow you away.

justthefacts
22053
Points
justthefacts 12/01/13 - 08:51 am
11
1
Lockett

As a former government worker, he has had better training on how to waste taxpayer dollars.

RMSHEFF
16001
Points
RMSHEFF 12/01/13 - 08:57 am
11
1
All that travel and money

All that travel and money spent and they learned NOTHING. I sent my dog to an obedience school one time and he learned nothing also. They should stay home or just travel to Sandy Springs Georgia where the cut taxes and increased services at the same time. Sandy Springs privatized every department and the tax payers are getting better service and lower taxes and even the employees of the private companies like their jobs and are payed more. It aint rocket science.

seenitB4
87456
Points
seenitB4 12/01/13 - 08:59 am
10
1
Rocket Science

It is to them..:)

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 12/01/13 - 10:13 am
0
0
Video Conferencing. Saves money in the corporate world.
Unpublished

Video Conferencing. Saves money in the corporate world.

soapy_725
43678
Points
soapy_725 12/01/13 - 10:14 am
0
0
Remember, government can't be run like a business. LOL
Unpublished

Remember, government can't be run like a business. LOL

deestafford
27774
Points
deestafford 12/01/13 - 10:25 am
7
0
Has there been any cost-benefit analysis done?

Have the commissioners given trip reports on what they learned and how they plan to use that knowledge to benefit the community. Then, is there a follow-up report a year later showing that the community actually benefited from this "education"?

As far as government required training...couldn't it be put on DVD and sent to the newly elected leaders? I know. I know. "I learn so much by talking with others when we are not in the classroom."

If some entity such as Sandy Springs is doing so well, why not bring one of their leaders here to educate ALL of our leaders. I bet we could do this having to pay only transportation costs because we could get some comp food and lodging from a local hotel/motel willing to help out the community.

Let's get out of the box and think!

itsanotherday1
43362
Points
itsanotherday1 12/01/13 - 11:03 am
7
0
I don't think conventions are

I don't think conventions are the best learning environments.

southern2
6155
Points
southern2 12/01/13 - 11:39 am
7
0
Please allow one sensitive

Please allow one sensitive question....Why do the black commissioners always seem to need more out of town trips, training, and globe trotting? Lockett should especially be held accountable.

I'll never forget the trip to Hawaii taken by Beard, Colcough, Hankerson, and Williams at a cost of $14K plus. I'm tired of being suckered by these freeloaders.

dichotomy
33101
Points
dichotomy 12/01/13 - 11:42 am
9
0
reb....."I want them to learn

reb....."I want them to learn as much as they can"

You cannot teach common sense. Look, these clowns waste our money going to all of this crap. Then they come back here and vote to approve studies, consultants, community liaisons, and projects that are overpriced and padded to take care of the bribes, campaign donations, and skybox tickets. And then they ACT SURPRISED when we have an $8 million dollar budget deficit. Right Alvin? Where the hell do they think the money is coming from when they vote to approve all of this crap? THEY DO THIS WHOLE PROCESS BACKWARDS TO BEGIN WITH. The incompetent idiots vote ALL YEAR LONG for these projects and studies and consultants and FINALLY IN DECEMBER somebody gets a calculator out, adds it all up, and says "hey guys, we are going to be a little short next year....about $8 MILLION DOLLARS". We need a new process where THEY DO THE BUDGET FIRST for the NEXT YEAR and during the that year vote on stuff THAT FITS WITHIN THAT BUDGET. NO FITTY, NO PASSY. BUDGET FIRST....THEN SPEND.

I think all the downtown clowns are doing is partying and big timing at our expense. I think ALL of these governmental conferences are like sending a petty criminal to prison......where all they learn how is to steal more of your money and line their pockets.

It was gratifying to read the headline and KNOW who the biggest spenders were before reading the article. I really didn't even have to look....and I don't think anyone was surprised. I did note that the white commissioners seemed to have the courtesy to limit themselves to conferences located in Georgia while the black commissioners decided to abuse us for trips to Fort Worth, Seattle, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and New Orleans.....in addition to some Georgia conferences. But what the hell, I guess if you will take skybox tickets bought with taxpayer money, a week long downtown clown get together in Fort Worth at the taxpayer's expense doesn't seem so bad. Right Alvin? Y'all party on......we in Southeast Richmond County support you......LITERALLY.....we are financially supporting your poor governance, incompetent decisions, fiscal irresponsibility, and what some consider criminal bribe taking.

shulerr
11
Points
shulerr 12/01/13 - 12:48 pm
7
0
14 VACATIONS in less than 2 years!

Are you kidding me? Seattle WA really? One of the most expensive cities in this country. Each traveler should submit a report of what was learned and how it applies to our city government. Does no one oversee or supervise these crooks? Has anyone heard of teleconferencing? Travel expenses should be the FIRST expense CUT in the Richmond Co budget.

RMSHEFF
16001
Points
RMSHEFF 12/01/13 - 02:22 pm
6
0
Shulerr

Does no one oversee or supervise these crooks? Just the voters. We have an opportunity to take our government back every few years but sadly our willingness to overlook waste and mismanagement assures the same or worse in the future.

Little Lamb
46074
Points
Little Lamb 12/01/13 - 03:42 pm
7
0
Incomplete

I'm glad Ms. McCord tackled this problem. Her reported figures are way, way low because Fred Russell's minions did not provide the complete response to her Georgia Open Records Act request. As Ms. McCord acknowledges above she did not get the hotel charges, airfare, conference registrations and membership dues.

Russell has created a "bunker" culture at the Marble Palace that views the public and the press as enemies. If you fill out a GORA request, you will never know whether what you get is complete or accurate.

Riverman1
84226
Points
Riverman1 12/01/13 - 04:13 pm
3
0
Somebody Find the Video

If you want to see what they do at these meetings find the video they made of their trip to Hawaii that was showed at the Commission meeting. They goofed around on the beach and town mugging for the camera so much some got tired of looking at the video and walked out of the Commission meeting.

Riverman1
84226
Points
Riverman1 12/01/13 - 04:12 pm
7
0
Paid For Mileage and Used County Gas Card

So how were they paid for mileage when they filled up their gas tanks using the county gas card the same day?

Truth Matters
6886
Points
Truth Matters 12/01/13 - 05:39 pm
3
1
No traveling?

http://augustaconventioncenter.com/

I have said it many times before, why do we think others will use/support our convention center but we groan when our officials travel for conferences and training? Whereas, there is a case to be made to limit travel, you can't have it both ways. Private corporations , faith based groups, civic and social organizations are a market for our center, but calling for an end to all travel by government officials is ludicrous. Let's hope every other municipality does not do likewise and leave us with another empty big box in downtown Augusta.

gargoyle
17258
Points
gargoyle 12/01/13 - 07:12 pm
3
0
So we must waste tax dollars

So we must waste tax dollars in the hope that other government agency's consider wasting tax dollars to keep Augusta tax payers from taking a bigger loss . That's the kind of logic that keeps a boot on the throat of the economy here in Augusta. We already spent way too deep on the CBD pipe dream

GnipGnop
12242
Points
GnipGnop 12/02/13 - 12:10 am
3
0
I think what's sadder than the travel expenses....

is the fact that they come back, waste money on consulting fees that they never use the results of and the voters keep re-electing them and after they have served their full term and take one off they get re-elected. Who's dumb in this scenario...it ain't the commissioners!!

prov227
3157
Points
prov227 12/02/13 - 01:51 am
2
0
"Certified" commissioners?

Commissioners need to be "certified". I thought only voters could "certify" commissioners at the ballot box. The only "certifiable" folks in Richmond County are those who keep electing these big spenders. I guess that nothing that the commissioners enjoy at these far-flung conferences are too good for the taxpayer. A "Mayor's Day". Give us a break. How about every day being a "taxpayers' day"?

bubbasauce
20727
Points
bubbasauce 12/03/13 - 03:39 am
2
0
To southern2 comment, you

To southern2 comment, you know why, because we owe them that privilege to travel as much as possible. The arrogance of these commissioners is really sickening and guess what? They could care less what you think, you are way below them. That's all I have to say on this matter.

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