Friday, April 17, 2009

Another Misuse of Taxpayers Money

By Allen Bacon, Editor, The Daily Bosco

I read this week in my local paper, The Los Angeles Register of Orange County, that the Orange County Transportation Authority spent $95,802 on travel and conference expenses for its board members over the past three years, according to agency documents - including $300-a-night hotel rooms in New York City and $975-per-person conference fees to join a group of Southern California officials trying to secure transportation spending in Washington, D.C.

One board member spent $24,017. taking 14 trips requiring air travel to places like New York, Miami, Washington D.C., Toronto, Portland and Sacramento. While in New York this board member stayed at the Le Parker Meridien hotel for $300 a night.

Another board member took seven trips requiring air travel - including Washington D.C. and New York - with bills totaling $16,575. On one of those rating-agency trips, he stayed at the five-star, $300-a night New York Palace hotel, which bills itself “An icon of Manhattan splendor, The New York Palace seamlessly blends old world elegance with new world opulence…. known for its luxurious hotel accommodations, spectacular views, spacious rooms, and unparalleled service.” This member also traveled to Washington with the Orange County Business Council to lobby for better transportation funding and planning; registration fees alone were $975 in 2007 and $700 in 2008.

Another board member made 14 trips requiring air travel and expenses of $13,997. She too went on rating agency trips to New York and advocacy trips to Washington D.C., as well as many runs to Sacramento for hearings and meetings with legislators. (She was chair and vice-chair at the time.)

OCTA is the transportation czar for Orange County, CA overseeing billions in highway, road and rail projects. It recently increased bus fares and cut bus routes to deal with budget problems, and plans to cut its travel and conference budget by 10 percent next year.

Art Brown is on the Metrolink advisory board, and is the board’s authority person on rail issues. He defended his excessive traveling expense by saying It’s extremely important for him to stay current on the latest developments and update his colleagues. “The board relies on me to give explanations on how it’s going to fit in the grand scheme for rail safety and better service,” Brown said. “It’s important to make decisions based on fact.”

Most of the trips are probably necessary to secure funds for the Transportation District. But is it really necessary to spend taxpayers money on five star hotels and first class travel accomodations?

I feel it would be more fitting, since they are spending taxpayers money, to take the most economical way of getting to their destination. When they get to their destination they should be staying at the most economical motel like a Motel 6 or a relatives house. And whenever possible they need to take public transportation to their meeting.

When traveling in state to places like Los Angeles or Sacramento...the board members need to take a train. When going to and from their living accomodations they need to take public transportation. They are afterall making recommendations on a transportation system. What better way to get ideas for recommendations than by actually riding a bus or light rail or train.

Also, many of these seminars these board members go to probably do not require traveling anyway. I attend several "webinars" a year from my laptop. And I'm sure there is a way to access most of these meetings without actually being there.

Let's call this what it is. It's an abuse and misappropriation of taxpayers money and it needs to stop now.

No comments: