Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Keystone City Leaders on the Go around State

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Keystone City Leaders on the Go around State

Article excerpt

KEYSTONE HEIGHTS -- While most county commissioners report a minimal amount of travel outside Clay County, travel for elected officials in Keystone Heights stretched from one end of the state to the other.

City officials say their travel is not only justified, but is an important aspect of running a 2-square-mile municipality. And the City Council is even considering raising the amount budgeted annually for travel by 50 percent.

Travel expenses are paid at the rate of 31 cents a mile and a minimum of $25 a day for three meals. City Clerk Karen McGill said that from October 1998 through June, the council and mayor had spent $6,732 of the $8,000 budgeted for their travel. And all five elected officials will attend the most expensive junket, estimated at $3,500 for a League of Cities convention, this month.

"This year is already over budget or will be when they get back [from the League of Cities conference]," McGill said. "But we'll just make a transfer from another account to cover it."

The city's proposed budget for the 1999-2000 fiscal year calls for increasing travel expenses by $4,000 to $12,000 annually for the five elected officials.

Vice Mayor Jack Raleigh, who oversees the city's finances, says that travel is important and it is helpful for the mayor and all four council members to attend the League of Cities Conference in Orlando.

"To be truthful, it's probably not necessary for all of us to go, but you get so much information and meet so many people. So probably it is not necessary, but it's probably good that we all go," Raleigh said.

He said that during a previous stint on the council, he rarely traveled, but times have changed.

"I was on the council before for six years and never went to the League of Cities conference. But now three years in a row I've gone and it really helps us," Raleigh said.

Council member Bill Beam said the League of Cities conference boosts the council's knowledge of obtaining grant money for projects in the city.

The most expensive trip for the city's staff is when City Clerk Karen McGill attended the International Clerks Conference in Canada in May. The trip cost taxpayers $1,088. This amount comes out of a $2,500 budgeted item earmarked for the clerk's membership and education expenses.

McGill has attended the Florida Clerks Conference, always held in Florida, but said it "was not as valuable" as the international conference. That is mainly because the Florida conference is also geared to city auditors and does not have the kind of educational value that the International Clerks Conference offers, she said.

Raleigh defended the cost of McGill's trip, saying the benefit for the city is a better-educated city clerk.

"I'm sure she learned a lot. She's become a pretty competent city clerk," he said. …

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