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City officials revisiting outdated travel policy

Washington’s elected officials and city employees will be governed by the same travel policy, the City Council decided at its July 9 planning session.

The council also decided the policy, implemented about 1990 needs updating.

“Councilman (Doug) Mercer and Councilman (William) Pitt actually worked on a travel policy and this came up in the past. One of the things we, the council, have to make a decision on is, in effect, does the City Council want to follow the same travel policy as the city staff?” City Manager Bobby Roberson said at that session.

“It’s entirely left up to the council.” Mercer said, “As the city manager indicated, we’ve got a travel policy that was adopted in 1990. It’s almost 30 years old. It needs to be updated. I, personally, I have no problem living with the same restrictions we put on a city employee,” Mercer said. “If we expect him to behave in a certain manner, I expect to behave in the same manner. I don’t think that I should have any special privileges. The only thing that is above and beyond most city employees is that we (council members) is that we have that $500 development fund for each of us to go to schools as we find one that we feel is appropriate. … The employees come through their individual departments for their training programs and development programs.”

Mercer said he believes the meal allowance for traveling city employees “is a little low.” Currently, the policy provides a $34 per diem (daily allowance) for food. “I suggested a new meal allowance in the draft that I sent you that totals $51 a day, breaking it down by meals. I think that’s a reasonable number in today’s climate,” Mercer said.

The current policy breaks down the per diem this way: $6 for breakfast, $8 for lunch and $20 for supper, according to Roberson. The committee working on revising the travel policy considered a per-diem breakdown of $9 for breakfast, $15 for lunch and $27 for supper, Roberson noted. That’s a $17 difference between the current policy and considered policy.

“We prefer, talking with certain members of the staff, to go with a flat rate and not go to these incidental expenses et cetera,” said Roberson, referring to a set of federal government guidelines related to travel by federal employees. “We’re recommending the flat rate. We need your input on that.”

Roberson said the revised policy would be presented to the council at its September meeting, when the council could adopt the updated policy.

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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