Editorial: Conference eats up too much money

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 30, 2005

Anyone who’s ever been to an out-of-state conference knows they are usually as much vacation junket as they are hard working business meeting.

There’s nothing particularly wrong with that, especially when they are paid by private businesses that want to reward as well as enrich some of their employees by sending them to a conference. Taxpayers will even put up with paying for the occasional, reasonably priced trip for their public officials.

But the junket public officials from across the country, including some from Blue Earth County, are embarking on to Hawaii is being criticized by many, and for good reason.

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The National Association of Counties is holding its annual five-day conference in Hawaii next month. Blue Earth County Commissioners Kip Bruender, Colleen Landkamer and Bob Roberts, as well as Director of Taxpayer Services Patty O’Connor are all going, as is Brown County Commissioner Andrew Lochner. Most other area counties are not sending anyone.

Blue Earth County taxpayers will spend nearly $7,000 to send county officials to Hawaii, including nearly $200 a night each for hotel costs. (Landkamer’s expenses are being paid by the national group because she is a vice president of the association.)

Commissioners use the standard defense for the trip – it’s a chance to network and gain new ideas to help them run the county better. Yes, there is little doubt some of that may be gained, but the trip is too expensive and extravagant to be justified.

The fact is, with today’s technology, local officials could sit in a Mankato conference room for a few days and get video conference speeches piped in from the same speakers they will hear in Hawaii. There are plenty of ways to get valuable new ideas without spending a week in Hawaii.

It’s likely most taxpayers wouldn’t be as upset if the conference was held in a lower cost spot in the continental U.S. Most private businesses long ago began holding more regional conferences and hold national conferences in lower-cost locales in order to save money. There’s no reason county government should pick one of the most expensive vacation spots on the globe to have a conference.

The next time county commissioners tell residents their property taxes need to go up, or talk about the tough choices they have to make in these tight financial times, taxpayers might want to ask them if spending a week in Hawaii at taxpayer expense was the right decision to make.

&045; The Free Press (Mankato)