When it comes to travel for elected officials, the Muscle Shoals mayor and City Council are racking up more expense than their counterparts in the Shoals.
During fiscal year 2012, which is Oct. 1, 2011 through Sept. 30, 2012, the council and mayor spent $30,357 on travel. Through the first quarter of the current fiscal year, the mayor and council have spent more than $10,000 of the $30,000 budgeted for travel.
The city’s budget gives a line item for travel for each city department, with the $30,000 dedicated to the council and mayor ranking at the top of all city departments. The Muscle Shoals Police Department boasts the city’s second highest travel budget with just more than $22,000.
Mayor David Bradford said his and the council’s travel is mostly to meetings associated with the Alabama League of Municipalities or the National League of Cities.
Bradford said the trips to those meetings afford elected officials opportunities to become informed about legislation that could impact the city or lobby for legislation
or projects that will benefit
Bradford and the majority of the council spent several days in November and December at the National League of Cities meeting in Boston.
“Anything on the state and federal level can impact our local community,” Bradford said. “We go and fight for and lobby for funding, transportation bills and projects. On the state level, we have a legislative agenda we try to work toward.”
The Colbert County Commission travel spending comes closest to Muscle Shoals, but their travel funds cover the six commissioners and the seven employees in the County Commission office. In fiscal year 2012,
the commission budgeted $31,700 for travel but spent $24,943.
Colbert County general fund accountant James Brumley said much of the commission’s travel involves training conducted by the Association of County Commissions of Alabama.
“Just about 100 percent of all training and conferences are conducted by the ACCA,” Brumley said. “They provide training for ethics, financial, open meetings, county operations, legislations, etc. It’s a pretty big list.”
He said county commissioners are required by law to obtain and keep certification through educational training and conferences.
“Commission office staff also have training and certifications in their jobs that are obtained and kept,” he said.
Other city councils have comparatively smaller budgets than Muscle Shoals and Colbert County.
Tuscumbia Mayor Bill Shoemaker said other city needs are higher priorities than travel for himself and the City Council. Often, the mayor and council don’t spend what it allotted for travel. This year’s budget calls for $500 in travel expenses for Shoemaker and $2,000 total for the five-member council.
“We really take that seriously,” Shoemaker said. “We don’t spend a lot, particularly on ourselves. We pay most of our own expenses. That
money’s needed for
Shoemaker said he usually travels with a Shoals group to Washington, D.C., to meet with federal officials but hasn’t gone in the last two years.
“I may go this year, it depends on what they want to talk to us about in Washington,” Shoemaker said.
Outcome must be the focus of any travel taken on the taxpayer’s dollar, Florence Mayor Mickey Haddock said. The mayor and council budgeted $16,500 during the previous fiscal year, but only spent $7,382.
“It’s important to establish relationships,” he said. “Face-to-face time is very important, especially when you’re meeting officials in Montgomery and Washington.
“But it’s important to remember that we are travelling on taxpayer dollars,” Haddock said. “We need to
be open, transparent and
honest about what we are
Haddock said he will be travelling to trade shows to attract the attentions of companies and retailers that might be interested in Florence.
“We should travel with an outcome in mind,” he said.
The Sheffield, the City Council spent $6,720 in travel during 2012 fiscal year and have budgeted $8,500 for the current year.
The Lauderdale County Commission spent $1,700 of the budgeted $8,000 during the previous year. This year’s budget also include $8,000 for travel.
Travel expenses typically include mileage reimbursements, air fare, lodging, conference registration and meals.
Jennifer Edwards can be reached at 256-740-5754 or jennifer.edwards@TimesDaily.com
Staff writers Russ Corey, Bernie Delinski, Robert Palmer and Tom Smith contributed to this report.