The Board of County Commissioners has been looking back to move ahead on a new travel policy for all employees, including commissioners.
That did not sit comfortably with the father of a former commissioner.
Commissioner Joanna Bryan asked more than a month ago for figures relating to travel by commissioners over the past several years.
Before the BOCC at the time of her request was consideration of approval of travel for Commissioner Warren Yeager over the next two years to meetings with organizations such as the Florida Association of Counties, of which Yeager is an officer, the FAC Small Counties Coalition and the Gulf Coast Consortium.
Yeager is also an officer in the latter two organizations.
At the time, Bryan said she would like to look at the cost of travel over the past two years, including that of former commissioner Bill Williams, who Bryan noted did a lion’s share of the travel in response to work on the aftermath of the BP oil spill.
Yeager, Bryan said, was assuming much of the responsibilities Williams had held and Bryan asked to take a look at the whole picture of county travel.
The requesting of Williams’ records was questioned during Tuesday’s regular bi-monthly meeting by his father, Bill
Williams was at the podium to discuss drainage and mosquito issues in Overstreet when he began to talk about the need for commissioners to set aside specific meeting time to rebut “attacks” from the community, naming Jim Garth, Tom Semmes and the political action committee Citizens Improving Gulf County.
“There is a morality problem going on that is harmful,” Williams said. “You have the right to defend yourself.”
Bryan asked whether the meeting was the appropriate setting to attack citizens when Williams questioned her about her requests for records concerning his son’s travel.
“I will look at any information on any issue relating to spending,” Bryan said. “That was all the request for numbers was about.
“It has nothing to do with your son. It is about investment of dollars that belong to the people of the county and the best use of those dollars. Your son was doing a lot of the travel. We need to see the investment we are making is bringing a bang.”
Williams continued his probe until he was finally cut off by Commission chair Tan Smiley, who said being a politician meant you were fair game for attacks and that a tough skin was necessary for the job, while praising Bill Williams for his work as a commissioner.
The issue came up later in the meeting when Port St. Joe resident Bill Koran took the podium.
Koran said the issue was not so much the travel, which he acknowledged as a necessary part of the job.
But he said the county spent more than $200,000 in travel in 2011 and that commissioners should weigh the cost of travel, room nights, meals, etc. against the perception of citizens making, on average, $18,000 a year.
“This issue is very important,” Koran said. “A lot of the travel is justified. But it should it cost more than the school board pays for travel, what a state employee is paid for travel?
“People are looking for accountability and responsibility in government. When you travel make it worth it.”
Koran said he had yet to see a cost/benefit analysis that demonstrated certain trips with several county employees traveling – such as last week’s National Association of Counties meeting in Washington, D.C. – brought tangible benefit to the county.
Commissioner Warren Yeager agreed in substance.
“We need to be doing it as efficiently as possible,” he said. “We need to find the most efficient way. We need to figure out we are getting the bang for a buck.”
Commissioner Ward McDaniel said the travel issue was simple.
“We’ve got two choices,” McDaniel said. “We can select where to put the headstone of the county or we need to go. You’ve got to go to (federal and state elected officials). Government moves slow.”
Issues such as CBRA and FEMA funding require that county officials meet face-to-face with their legislative delegations, he added.
“If you think you can sit here and not go to those meetings and still get things done for the county, I have some swamp land I could sell you,” said resident Pat Hardman. “You need to bring home the bacon. You need to be at the meetings.”
As a result of a Bryan’s inquiries the BOCC has launched a review and rewrite of the county travel policy.
The updated policy was in the consent agenda for Tuesday’s meeting, but Bryan asked that commissioners table it for full review and consideration before moving ahead. The policy will be taken up at the next regular meeting.
County attorney Jeremy Novak said the intent of the update was to visit some issues and problems that have surfaced with travel in the past several years and provide a more “robust” policy.
“This is a big issue for our constituency,” Bryan said. “I don’t feel comfortable approving a policy I haven’t had time to properly review.”
Only Commissioner Carmen McLemore dissented on the motion to table the policy.