Council mulls limits on members’ training expenses

Published 8:52 pm Saturday, November 23, 2013

Washington’s City Council, with assistance from the city manager and city attorney, is taking a look at setting guidelines regarding professional development of its members and the mayor.
The issue was discussed during the council’s meeting last week.
“I would like to submit that we have certain group functions around professional development that we’re all invited to every year — League of Municipalities, chamber (of commerce) functions, for instances, certain things that everybody is involved in,” Mayor Archie Jennings said. “Then we have councilmen who have various interests of their own that could be beneficial to the city or to that council member in terms of professional development. So, my suggestion is that the cost of that be monitored and that we limit the additional professional-development expenses to $500 per year (per council member). … Anything over and above that would be at the individual council member’s expense.”
Councilman Bobby Roberson said he has no problem with the recommendation. Roberson, the mayor pro tempore, said he has some concerns about professional-development expenses for council members, including unnecessary travel expenditures.
“If I’m going to go to Raleigh, N.C., for a meeting … and they have a meeting up there at 8 o’clock, I don’t go up there — if the meeting is on Wednesday — I don’t go up there on Tuesday and spend the night and get up the next morning and go to class and then spend that night and come back on Thursday,” Roberson said. “I just think we need to sort of outline the process of what we need to do. I appreciate you bringing this up because it’s something that’s been overlooked and something we need to take a look at.”
“I think it’s an opportunity for some guidance and standardizing of what’s expected. I think that’s fair, and I think, certainly, the city is willing to invest, to some extent, in professional development, but there needs to be some accounting in how each council member addresses some of that,” Jennings said. “So, I think a simple, $500 annual limit … is a fair amount.”
Roberson suggested that attendance by individual council members or the mayor at professional-development events be approved by the entire council, which should have some say concerning training for it members
“It sort of needs to be precleared by the council if we’re going to have people who are going to run for office, who are representing the City of Washington and they just take off and go. I don’t have a problem with that as long as the council votes on it and there are guidelines specifically that take us to task on that,” Roberson said.
“What I’m trying to do is put an equitable best practice in place without any commentary on what has or hasn’t happened up until now,” Jennings replied. “I think certainly anything that’s happened … or has taken place has been with the best interest of the city at heart under the current guidelines.”
“I’m going to take exception to that,” Robeson said.
“That’s fine, but that’s not why I brought this up. What I brought up was the opportunity to add some guidance going forward and to take at any opportunity for misunderstanding and that sort of thing. If it can’t be handled and considered in good order, and with good intentions, then I will withdraw it from consideration,” Jennings said.
Councilman Doug Mercer, who represents the city on several regional and statewide entities, said he has no problem with the $500 per year cap on a council member’s professional-development expenses. Mercer said if he chooses to attend a seminar, conference or similar event and the cost to do so is $600, then it would be up to him to decide whether to use his $500 annual allotment and $100 of his own money to attend the event.
Council member William Pitt, who’s a member of the N.C. League of Municipalities Board of Directors that meets five times a year, said he has no problem using his stipend he receives as a council member to cover any professional-development expenses above the suggested $500 the city would provide for training each year.
Councilman Richard Brooks said he has no problem with a $500 cap on training-related expenses for council members.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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