Tulsa County officials defend Hawaii trip costs
Saturday, June 25th 2005, 10:00 AM CDT
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Tulsa County taxpayers will pay up to $9,000 for six officials to fly to Hawaii where they can learn, among other things, how to plan their retirements.
The Tulsa officials are the only Oklahoma leaders who accepted the invitation for the trip to the National Association of Counties' annual meeting July 15-19, an association spokesman said. Nationally, 3,000 are attending.
``Yeah it sounds glamorous, but we're going to be in classes a lot of the time,'' Tulsa County Clerk Earlene Wilson said Friday.
Oklahoma County officials won't make the trip.
``I think it's a waste of money,'' Oklahoma County Commissioner Stan Inman said Friday. ``You can get everything you need from NACo on their Web site. There's no point on spending taxpayers' money to go anywhere to get information from them.''
Supporters of the program say there are benefits to the trip. In addition to the retirement session, they say, there will be others: avoiding trouble with news media, achieving breakthroughs in the juvenile justice system, tackling the methamphetamine problem and finding money in tough budget times.
Tulsa County District Attorney Tim Harris said he is not making the trip because he has a budget shortfall. Although, he added, the meetings can generate useful tips for the county.
Wilson said she, her chief deputy and commissioners Bob Dick and Randi Miller are going. She wasn't able to identify the other two, and a spokesman for the association said he could not disclose their identities.
The county paid $2,500 to join the national association.
Dick and Miller did not return phone calls Friday. Representatives for Court Clerk Sally Howe Smith, Treasurer Dennis Semler and commissioner Wilbert Collins Sr. said their bosses are not going.
Assessor Ken Yazel and Sheriff Stanley Glanz said they are not attending. Wilson said it's possible nonelected county officials are the other two attendees.
Wilson said she and her deputy will each pay a $415 registration fee, $600 airfare and $100 daily for a hotel room they are sharing. They will be reimbursed by the county. Meal costs also are reimbursed, but alcohol is not.
``I wouldn't miss it,'' she said. ``The classes that we get are excellent. We cannot possibly get them at the state level.
``We keep up that way. We're pretty frugal with the money that we have available, and we want to stretch it as far as we can.''
The organization agreed on Hawaii in 1998, association spokesman Jeremy Ratner said.
``We don't discriminate against any county wanting to host the conference,'' he said. ``While Hawaii is certainly far away for you folks on the Midwest and East ... it's about the same for the Western people to get over to Miami. It really depends on where you're coming from.''