Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

German Trip Raises Ethical Questions Who Will Pay Bill for Officials' Travel?

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

German Trip Raises Ethical Questions Who Will Pay Bill for Officials' Travel?

Article excerpt

NEPTUNE BEACH -- Some city officials are having second thoughts about letting a German company that wants to sell them an $8 million sewer system pay for an overseas trip to see how the system works.

Four Neptune Beach officials are going to Hanau, south of Frankfurt, for a week in late April to inspect a vacuum sewer system made by Roediger Inc. The City Council agreed Monday that the city would pay for the trip and let Roediger Inc. reimburse it for the costs.

The city is considering the Roediger system, which uses valves and pumps to suck wastewater through underground pipes, for part of an ongoing $15 million water and sewer project. Roediger's system has been used for at least 20 years throughout Europe and the company is eager to get established in the United States.

Vice Mayor Bob Shimp and other city officials say the trip is necessary to get first-hand information from people who work with the system and know its strengths and weaknesses. Last month, Shimp and four other city officials went to Englewood in southwest Florida to inspect a similar vacuum sewer system.

Shimp and City Manager Dick Linn, City Engineer Jim Miller and City Councilman Ron Patronik are making the trip to Germany, which is projected to cost about $4,100 in air fare and lodging alone. They will pay for their wives' expenses if the wives come along.

At question is who will pay for the officials' trip.

State ethics laws prohibit government officials from accepting transportation and lodging from a vendor that wants to sell them a product. But the laws let government officials accept reimbursement for the governing body.

Some council members said Wednesday they might be better off refusing the reimbursement.

Shimp said he would not be swayed by the company's wining and dining. However, he said he would agree to let Neptune Beach pay for the trip if the public or the council were concerned that Roediger's payment might influence him to give them the contract. …

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