Palm Beach County: Commissioners’ $10,000 trip to Marco Island needed to study homelessness, other issues

Source: http://www.palmbeachpost.com/localnews/content/local_news/epaper/2009/06/24/0624marco.html?cxntlid=

Palm Beach Post Staff Writer

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

WEST PALM BEACH — Four Palm Beach County commissioners, along with several county staff members, are at the Marco Island Marriott Resort and Spa this week for a conference that County Administrator Bob Weisman estimates will cost the taxpayers $10,000.

It’s a trip they take every year, and Commission Chairman Jeff Koons says the Florida Association of Counties – which is organizing the conference – helps members make connections with state and federal policymakers and stay on top of issues such as homelessness and energy reform.

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But in a summer when the commission is considering sharp spending cuts and tax increases to make up for plunging home values, the trip is getting more attention than usual.

And not everyone went.

In a story posted Tuesday by the South Florida Sun Sentinel, Commissioner Jess Santamaria said he is staying in town to work on pressing county issues, such as the budget. He said hanging around with “movers and shakers” from across the state is a benefit mainly for those interested in running for state or federal office.

Earlier today, Karl Dickey, who is running against Commissioner Steven Abrams next year, issued a news release headlined: “Your Tax Dollars at Work — Or Is it Play?” Dickey urged reporters to check which commissioners come back with tans.

Abrams is at the conference and could not immediately be reached for comment, although someone purporting to be Abrams posted a message defending the trip on The Palm Beach Post‘s Web site Tuesday night.

“For goodness sakes, we live in Palm Beach County; I can assure you it is not some special junket for me to drive to Marco Island,” the message read. “Please be assured I am not playing golf or going on a cruise, and when I am not in meetings, I am taking my budget book with me to also study for our (commission) meeting next week.”

Reached on his cell phone today, Koons said the conference is definitely work.

Koons said he is attending sessions from 8:15 a.m. until after 6 p.m. He said it is critical for him to be there to meet conference attendees such as federal housing officials, at a time when the county may apply for more federal money to battle homelessness.

Weisman said some commissioners choose not to travel, and that is their personal preference.

“But you are not necessarily going to meet these people if you are sitting at home in Palm Beach County,” Weisman said.

This story includes material from the Sun Sentinel.

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