Your Tax Dollars Worked in Hawaii

County officials are back from a national conference in Hawaii and Will Jones of the Richmond Times-Dispatch checked in with them. In a sign that citizen and media skepticism before the trip had an effect, officials Jones spoke with gushed about specific things they learned that will help their localities.

What they really learned was that vague claims of “hard work” at these conferences just won’t cut it anymore. At least the skepticism accomplished something.


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  1. Is Bacon’s Rebellion going to just follow the Time Disgrace’s lead or is it going to take on the Virginia Performing Art Foundation anymore? Are are they considered ‘too controversial’

    We are talking about massive fraud to city and state taxpayers, especailly in light of the recent FOIA by SaveRichmond.com
    It dwarfs this Hawaii thing. Do Kaine and Kilgore still unquestionally support the VaPAF?

    It’s time to put an end to this charade!

  2. I’ve read (and written) my share of rationalizations. But the ones expressed by the attendees in this TD article set a new gold standard for the genre.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    I totally defend the value of local government officials attending conferences like this. Indeed, one of the biggest problems in Virginia’s state and local government is the relentless and myopic focus of the local punditocracy and citizenry on insignificant expenditures like this at the expense of the issues that really do matter.

    A few thousand bucks is a drop in the bucket to help broaden the horizons of our elected officials. The alternative is to keep them at home, afraid to venture out of their districts, and keep them ignorant of the broader currents of thought and government practice. That’s a recipe for saving a few thousand dollars and missing out on opportunitities to save millions of dollars. Indeed, I would urge our elected officials to travel more, learn more, gain more perspectives. Just because our government beat reporters are myopic and ignorant about the major issues driving state and local governance doesn’t mean that our elected officials should be, too.

    There’s no denying that there have been travel abuses. There are well documented instances of elected officials and board of various commissions and authorities treating these trips as junkets. Spending a conference playing golf and tipping strippers is not a legitimate use of tax dollars. But it’s foolish to allow the abuse of a few to curtail opportunities to learn.

  4. Anonymous Avatar
    Anonymous

    I agree that conferences have thier value, but as pointed out elsewhere in the VA blogosphere, did the conference really need to be held in Haiwaii when it could be held at any number of Conferance Centers on the mainland? Transportation costs would have been cheaper and the perception that this was nothing more then a vacation would have been much less of a factor in people complaining about this particular trip.

  5. NoVA Scout Avatar
    NoVA Scout

    The National Association of Counties is, at its name suggests, a national organization. That it meets in various places around the country should not be a source of implied scandal. NACO is scheduled to have its meetings in Virginia in our quadricentennial year (I think)- no doubt blogs and papers in Hawaii will excoriate local NACO members there for boondoggling in Richmond. I suppose it happens more than we would like that officials sometimes go to these things and learn nothing. But that’s a problem of individual diligence, not a matter of where these events are sited.

  6. Will Vehrs Avatar
    Will Vehrs

    Jim, I want to agree with you, but I have watched years and years of conferences and virtually no sharing of information or new ideas.

    If our local leaders just used the internet for the same length of time they spend travelling, they’d have all sorts of “broader currents of thought and government practice.”

    The point of my post was to point out that for the first time in my memory, local officials are mentioning real things picked up at a conference. If taxpayers are going to send these officials off to conferences, they deserve to know if anything was learned that might improve their government’s performance.

    I don’t have a problem with Hawaii, although just for practical purposes one would expect fewer officials from Virginia to travel there than to Cincinnati. By the same token, I would expect more Hawaii supervisors to attend a conference in San Diego than in Richmond, VA.

  7. subpatre Avatar

    With the Hawaii location, and it’s pre-publicity, any (elected) official better have some quotes on stuff they ‘picked up’ at the meeting. VACO’s annual meetings, scheduled through 2007, are always at the The Homestead.

    The actual costs may be trivial, but perception isn’t. I’d think local supervisors could be more sensitive to constituents who make $25k and pay almost 10% in taxes.

    Will’s probably right about time better spent online, but my observation is most officials are computer illiterate. That’s changing though, and leads to an very interesting question: Could they participate?

    In January, the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council backed a ruling by the state attorney general that e-mail exchanges do not violate open-meeting laws, even when messages are sent among several officials. But Maria J.K. Everett, the executive director of the council, said an official electronic discussion group – often called a list server – would violate the state’s sunshine laws.Virginia Coalition for Open Government

    In Beck v. Shelton (Fredericksburg) the udge wrote “What they must not do is click “reply all” or in any way respond so the whole group is privy to the exchange. At that point the communication is not like letters, a fax, or voicemail; it must be treated as an illegal meeting.” [emphasis mine]

    This blog (with less party partisans) or the Road to Ruin might make a good discussion area for computer literate state and local officials. But could they legally participate?

  8. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    Subpatre: I think you’re looking at old information. The VA Supreme Court overturned the circuit judge’s decision in March 2004. The decision turned on the word “assemblage,” the Supreme Court saying that it derived from the Latin word “simul” meaning “at the same time.” It’s not a meeting if the members are not assembled at the same time.

  9. subpatre Avatar

    The quotes posted were from the SC decision, though I expect the source (Virginia Coalition for Open Government’s) is a bit (!) biased.

    FOIA Advisory Council’s Legislative Issue Brief No. 37 With e-mail, the user must consider …. whether the email has an element of simultaneity…. and its E-Mail and Meetings under VA FOIA …members of a public body …. should be cautioned against using e-mail among three or more members of the public body that is akin to using the telephone and has an element of simultaneity.

    All opinions substantially put blog participation in limbo, since there is immediacy and simultaneity. Also unknown are requirements of the Public Records Act, where emails of public business must be kept.

    My non-licensed opinion is that blogs are generally open to participation for elected officials, but that the status of electronic communication is murky enough that it would discourage that participation.

  10. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    I read over the Beck decision again and do not find those words. Here is the opinion.

    The court said that a chat room or instant messaging would have the element of simultaneity; e-mail doesn’t have it. Though the court didn’t address blogs specifically, a blog conversation doesn’t have simultaneity. Perhaps it might if all the participants agreed ahead of time to be online and chat, but that would be using the blog as a chatroom, not as an ordinary blog.

    You might also take note of 2.2-3707(G) which says “Nothing in this chapter shall be construed to prohibit the gathering or attendance of two or more members of a public body (1) at any place or function where no part of the purpose of such gathering or attendance is the discussion or transaction of any public business, and such gathering or attendance was not called or PREARRANGED with any purpose of discussing or transacting any business of the public body” [my emphasis]. The Attorney General has opined that prearrangement is a crucial element in whether something is considered a meeting or not.

  11. Becky Dale Avatar
    Becky Dale

    subpatre: You were quoting Frosty Landon, not a judge, from an op-ed he wrote that was in Free Lance-Star on 10/19/03. Here is his
    column.

    That same day Free Lance-Star ran an op-ed I wrote on the same topic.

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