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Against 1 Objection, Flagler Commissioners Want to Increase Their Travel Budget 184%

| May 19, 2016

commissioners travel budget

The current year’s amount was what the commission had budgeted. It has already been exceeded by about $5,000. The 2016-17 amount is proposed. (© FlaglerLive)

For the past 10 years, the combined travel and conference budget for the five Flagler County commissioners has averaged $11,000 a year. In the current year, the travel budget was set at $15,850.

The proposed budget for next year? $45,000—a staggering 184 percent increase.


The increase shocked Commissioner Barbara Revels, who chairs the commission. She called the increase “obscene.” She is adamantly opposed.

She is the only one.

Two of her colleagues—Frank Meeker and Nate McLaughlin—said the increase is necessary to enable commissioners to attend conferences (McLaughlin at one point let slip the word “junket,” to Meeker’s displeasure) and meet officials and develop “relationships” that then lead to more money for county government.

Revels was not opposed to an increase in the travel budget. But without citing dollars, she noted that each commissioner is paid over $50,000 a year as it is and gets a travel budget. She favored increasing that budget modestly, to $20,000 split five ways. Again, Meeker and McLaughlin protested, while Commissioner George Hanns at times supported the men and at other times proposed setting a lower budget, then bringing specific travel plans to the commission for approval. (That would not be workable, Revels reminded him, as the commission must set a budget going into the year.)

The protracted, at times snippy, at times pouty discussion at this morning’s commission workshop on the general fund budget left County Administrator Craig Coffey grasping for a compromise as he sought to maneuver out of the way of having his staff make travel decisions for commissioners, especially as some of them like to travel more than others.

“I disagree with the additional travel needs for travel conferences, I’m sorry,” Revels said.

“I don’t, but I know you do. That’s OK,” Meeker snapped.

The budget Coffey was proposing would raise each commissioner’s travel allowance to $9,000, though currently the entire cost of conference attendance is about $6,500 per commissioner—well over the travel budget of every one of the past 10 years.

commissioners travel

Commissioner Barbara Revels, seen here at a previous meeting, is seriously at odds with Nate McLaughlin and Frank Meeker (not pictured) over their individual travel budgets. Commissioner Charlie Eriocksen, at the far end of the table, was mum for most of today’s discussion on travel. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

Meeker says he spends a lot of time in Tallahassee, not just at conferences. “I have three committees that I’m on,” he said, “that all require transportation out of county, with subgroups that I’m also associated with within those organizations that are either Orlando meetings, Tallahassee meetings or Tampa meetings, and it’s just  not covered under these numbers. And I’m the one that’s doing the most traveling.”

“Some of us travel out of the area on meetings as well,” Revels said. After Hanns inexplicably diverted the conversation to the shame of miscreants breaking into cars and the lack of money for libraries, Revels, intent on not letting the matter slip, returned to the charge. “I’m objecting to the travel increase,” she said, proposing the first of three compromises. Each one would fail in turn. “If we spent $17,800 last year, then bump it to $20,000, not $45,000—not an additional $35,000.”

“We need to make sure that these opportunities are funded because there’s a direct benefit to the citizens of Flagler County,” McLaughlin said. “I mean, that’s where we go and build those relationships, get these grants, get these dollars. These relationships are important to what we’re doing for the citizens here.”

“I spent less than $500 in travel and came back with half a million from the district,” Meeker said, apparently referring to grant money from the water management district, though it’s not at all clear whether travel was the difference: the county administration does its work, too.

“I’m not suggesting that we stay with the existing budget but I’m suggesting that adding $30,000 is obscene for what we’re already compensated for our jobs,” Revels said. (Commissioners currently make $50,916. The salary is set by the state. The money is paid from Flagler’s general fund.)


Revels’s three attempts at compromise failed. The apparent result is still a doubling of the travel budget.
 


“If this board doesn’t care that much about it I’m not going to sign up for any of those FAC leadership positions or anything like that, I’m not going to do it,” McLaughlin said, referring to the Florida Association of Counties.

So far this year the commission’s travel has exceeded $20,000. Coffey hinted at his recurring dilemma and not wanting to be in a position to turn down commissioners’ requests. “My suggestion was maybe an allowance per commissioner. That might be a way, that way staff doesn’t have to get in the middle,” he said. “The commissioners could choose what they want to go to and what they don’t.”

“I don’t agree with $9,000 per commissioner. I think that’s crazy,” Revels again insisted before trying her second compromise: She proposed $5,000 per commissioner. She got nowhere, even though Coffey said the amount would likely cover most travel by commissioners.

“I’ll go along with what you want to do,” McLaughlin said, unconvinced, “but let’s make a policy statement, and say we want to influence for the sake of Flagler County residents or we’ll just make the phone calls and send letters,”  which he called “not effective at all.”

Revels, in a third attempt at compromise, then moved the per-commissioner allowance to $6,000. Meeker objected, speaking of his trips to Tallahassee and Orlando.

“Do you use a county car when you go there?” Revels asked.

“No,” Meeker said.

Frank Meeker. (© FlaglerLive)

Frank Meeker. (© FlaglerLive)

“You have that option,” she said.

“I do,” Meeker said, “except there’s problems with some of my requirements right now that make those things just uncomfortable on a four-hour drive to Tallahassee, and I tried it in the van.” Meeker is in chemotherapy as he battles cancer.

“I drive all over the state for Pace and I don’t get anything for that.” Revels said.

“Well, you’re not carrying extra things around, Barbara. I am,” Meeker said.

Just last weekend, Revels traveled with McLaughlin and Hanns in one car to Tallahassee, while Meeker traveled with Commissioner Charlie Ericksen, so the five commissioners could accept an award for historical renovations at Princess Place. The trip cost $189 per hotel room—they stayed in five separate rooms—plus mileage and meals, as they stayed overnight. It’s unclear why all five felt compelled to go. The trip never came up in today’s discussion.

“I was trying to offer a compromise but it doesn’t appear that you’re willing to compromise,” Revels finally said. “I just think we have a tight budget year, we’re talking about raising millage, we’re talking about what our employees are going to get, how they’re going to pay for health care, and we’re talking about traveling.”

Coffey finally proposed putting in $35,000 in the travel budget, which would still amount to doubling the current year’s budgeted amount. But there was no clear consensus. Commissioners were eager to move on to other parts of the budget.

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25 Responses for “Against 1 Objection, Flagler Commissioners Want to Increase Their Travel Budget 184%”

  1. woodchuck says:

    Hey free vacations, car use,expense account-if it is good for Manfre it’s good for them.I am sure they have caluses on there hands from patting themselves on the back.

  2. alleah says:

    $189 per night for a hotel room in Tallahassee…they could have gotten something very decent with free breakfast for $50 by bidding on Priceline!! This is crazy!!! They don’t need to be traveling…at least not on our dime! We must keep this in mind come election time!!!

    Bring in tech companies to set up shop, increase high-paying jobs here,….much better things to do with their time and our money than traveling to accept an award! Really???

  3. l would like to hear specific individual rationales by those commissioners wanting 184% increase in their travel budget. I most certainly can understand Mr Meeker’s health issue and the complications he must face on a daily basis. l wish Mr Meeker a complete recovery. However, the needs of Flagler citizens must be considered first. With all the technology available today, communication, even face to face via Internet communication, should be explored as a viable option. I am certain public officials know and must respect “the well has a bottom.”

  4. Flatsflyer says:

    Hell, give them what they want, not what they need. How are these Tea Baggers suppose to go to the Koch Brothers Conferences and the Donald trump rallies on their own dime?

  5. Denise Calderwood says:

    Hi Peter

    I don’t think the Commissioners are even aware of how to use the the technology at their disposal. And it is hard to move up in the party ranks without shaking hands in person. I have driven up to Tallahassee several times this past year and sought the support on grants that I wrote on behalf of Flagler County Arts organizations and I couldn’t even get a letter of support or acknowledgement from the Cohnty Commission so what is the real story ? We will never know….

  6. confidential says:

    This proposal is an insult to the Flagler County taxpayers!! Is this people still paying for the Ritz Carlton like a former school superintendent and on our hard earned taxes? They want to travel..? Pay from their own pockets not from my taxes.

  7. Wishful thinking says:

    Revolting . No money to maintain free landscaping- no money for Welcome to Flagler County signs- Ormond Beach recently enhanced the I-95 underpass at Granada with ” welcome to Ormond Beach” inscribed in the walls . Thank you Barbara – I am proud of you for caring about us

  8. BIG JOHN says:

    What a bunch of crooks!

  9. Get out and Vote says:

    Too many “straws” can drain the lemonaid !

  10. steve miller says:

    STOP THE MADNESS!

  11. tulip says:

    Thanks to the state of Florida, more that $50,000 a year for a less than full time job, plus travel expenses and perks is way too much money. For the commissioners to want more travel money is just plain ludicrous and selfish.

    McLaughlin won’t go to any more Fla Cities meetings unless he gets more travel money? Just goes to show that he only became a commissioner for the money and perks, not for the good of the county. No surprise there.

    Meeker always wants more money wherever he can get it,

    Hanns tried to straddle the middle of the fence

    Erickson, as usual, had little or nothing to say

    Revels was the ONLY commissioner who had common sense and consideration. She has been a good commissioner as a whole and has genuinely done a lot of good for the people and children of Flagler County, and will have a legacy to be proud of.

    Of the 3 commissioners running this time, Revels is ok, the other 2 need to go. After that the other two need to go in 3 years,

    Also, I may be mistaken, but I thought I heard or read somewhere that commissioners weren’t supposed to travel together in the same vehicle because of the Sunshine Laws. I think it’s a dumb rule, but if it is a violation, McDonald may file a complaint so watch out LOL!

  12. Fraddy says:

    I am not paying for meetings on cruise ships.

  13. carol says:

    What nerve, shame on you Meeker & McLaughlin, wanting to travel for free. Shame on you both. Get a real job if you want to travel!!

  14. Dave says:

    Time to replace all the commissioners that want to increase their ‘travel budget’. You do not need to travel far out of Flagler County to do the job you were elected to do. Do your job or resign.

  15. Realist says:

    All these commissioners should be tossed out on their arses.

  16. Bc. says:

    Easy fix Vote them out

  17. robjr says:

    When people such as Dennis McDonald publicly calls out this type of behavior many people castigate him and not those feeding at the public trough.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Meeker proving again he is all for himself! Please remember these people at election time!

  19. confidential says:

    Dennis McDonald and the others tax watch dogs are correct complaining about these commissioners and their buddy county manager. What happen is that in Florida the Ethics Commission is bias and goes with the flow of the one’s in power, lets just be political correct. What a stench!

  20. Flaglergal says:

    Barbara Revels is a great commissioner, she is there for the right reasons. Meeker, while I am sorry he is battling cancer, should remember that we aren’t going to supplement him for his special needs. If he can’t travel like the other commissioners, then he can’t go on these junkets, err… meetings. Times are tight for all of us, no COL for retirees, little to no raises for people, so tighten the belt like the rest of us.

  21. Ben Hogarth says:

    While it is certainly difficult to place a tangible value on the benefit of in-person relationships with public officials in Tallahassee and other parts of the State, I think it is also a stretch to assume we can’t accomplish more over the phone or by email.

    Those legislative contacts appreciate little things and it’s all to often that politics get in the way of our own humanity. Brushing shoulders at buffet-like events rarely gain exposure to the right issues and for the right people to see.

    Not only will an increased budget for travel appear bad to Flagler Citizens looking to reduce government spending, but it may also give the appearance of political maleficence – outside agendas.

    Enterprise Florida of course, being the biggest provacateur of public spending – setting this tone for the entire state

  22. Traveling Rep says:

    I travel a lot for work. Each week I generate an expense report that is examined by my boss and our accounting dept. I work in sales and, from time to time, these expenses are compared to the amount of business (revenue) I generate. Based on that, my expense budget gets increased or decreased.

    Why on earth our government does not take this common sense approach is beyond me. If Meeker et al want to do gobs of travel, show us the metrics of how our taxpayer dollars spent on travel are generating positive results for Flagler. If that can’t be done – don’t waste our money.

    More importantly, being that this is a budget they are working on – how exactly did they arrive at such a round figure of $9k for each comm? If they truly looked at what travel was necessary, and projected accurate numbers, without fluff, I would expect the budgeted number to be extended to the penny.

  23. Palmcoaster says:

    This county administrator istrator needs to be immediately fired for not providing backup to support an increase of 184% and for saying a lesser amount would cover costs. It is insane for commissioners McLaughlin and Meeker to think they were elected to travel. They too need to go in 2018. What’s wrong with conference calls, face-time and other technical methods to share ideas and gain information? I would say some commissioners are using their positions to advance to other higher offices and are using their current positions to get there. This is shameful, as is the fact Commissioners Hanns and Ericksen played staying on the fence since they are up for reelection. It’s clear to see we need new representation beginning in 2016!

  24. confidential says:

    The FCBOCC are already planning well to hit us with a county tax increase in the incoming budget. This is nonsense on this still pathetic economy and for them to waste on lavish trips.
    Living in Palm Coast or this county is increasingly costly for what jobs pay around here and “if any jobs”.
    Just our water bills in our homes are about $60-70 basic rate (infrastructure) whether we use it or not. Lately if we put few extra branches for pick up on our yards Waste Pro pick up day, now they want $75 for an additional yard pick up. They always picked up our yard debris before as is not fair that with so many vacant homes that pay religiously for the service and do not generate any garbage or yard, etc waste in years as I witness, when then one day show up to spruce up their yards and are charged $75 for just doing it. I lived in Palm Coast since the early 90’s and never seeing this $75 fee before. Was even announced in their PC flashy newsletter. What will be next another utility increase…? Why other than wasting our utilities reserves to benefit the very few like the Town Center CRA are not kept in the reserved accounts to repair the drainage decaying old sewers or the new sewer plant? Nope they go and slap us with several utility increases because the reserves were used instead for the Old Kings Road South improvement and the Boulder Rock acquisitions and tubing and paving, all around Town Center. When we approved to the newly incorporated PC in 1999 to buy our utility we did it with confidence that these increases to benefit others will not materialize…wishful thinking. I will advise the city councilmen and mayor to drive around PC on garbage and yard pick up days total 3 a week and tell me if the volume you see justifies the additional $75 charge for additional yard debris. Many elderly reside in these homes on a fixed income and when a relative show up to help the trim and beautify their yards once on a while when they can a $75 fee will not match their SS paycheck. Not all living in PC are wealthy!

  25. suewho1010 says:

    totally disgusted with these bozo’s.

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