Granite Quarry mayor defends travel expenses

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 4, 2012

By Mark Wineka
GRANITE QUARRY — Mayor Mary Ponds defended her travel expenses Monday night — mileage she logs while serving on more than a dozen boards and committees in the community.
She said she serves in those positions as a representative for the town.
Alderman Jim LaFevers questioned how her board membership on some of the organizations was benefiting the taxpayers and why the town should pay her mileage to all of those meetings.
“I’m just asking the question, “LaFevers said. “How is it benefitting the taxpayers of Granite Quarry?”
Ponds likened her widespread community involvement to a public relations role for the town. She emphasized she was asked to be a member of all the organizations, mainly because she is mayor of Granite Quarry.
She submits a monthly travel invoice to the town for attending her various meetings. The town reimburses her at 55.5 cents a mile. Recent months have seen her travel expenses at sums such as $271, $171, $142 and $112.
“There is nothing that I do that I do for me,” Ponds said. “I do it for this town.”
LaFevers asked, for example, how it benefited the town for Ponds to be a member of the Rowan Regional Medical Center board. Ponds apparently traveled to hospital meetings three times in December and submitted a mileage invoice for those trips.
Ponds said her community involvement in general puts the town in a “favorable position,” and that any time an organization asks her to be on its board, it’s a plus for Granite Quarry.
“It’s PR for this community,” she said. “We get first-hand information.”
Ponds said it was “the exact same thing” as when the town manager travels to meetings on behalf of Granite Quarry and is reimbursed for his mileage.
Ponds gave aldermen a list of the boards and committee meetings she attends. They include the hospital, Partnership for Children, Nazareth Children’s Home, Meals on Wheels, ARC, State Employees Credit Union, Communities in School, Rowan Helping Ministries, Abundant Living Advance Committee, Centralina Council of Governments Blue Ribbon Committee, STEM, PCANC (Raleigh) State Board and Rowan County Mayors.
Ponds also noted she may be asked to make speeches and attend state meetings, conferences, retreats, grand openings and ribbon cuttings.
Mayor Pro Tem Bill Feather said the board has had this discussion for more than two years, and he described it as more of a fundamental question — one that should apply to any mayor, not just Ponds. He said the town has never defined what’s acceptable travel on the town’s behalf and what is not.
Feather noted board expenses have been over-budget for the past two years. He complained that aldermen agreed to give up $100 of their salaries last year in hopes the $400 total could benefit town employees in some way.
Instead, it went into board expenses.
Feather said the board has to decide something about travel and make sure it’s not personal but applies to any future mayor or alderman. Otherwise, the board will have the same discussion every month when a mayor’s travel expenses are submitted, he said.
Alderman Brad Kluttz said the board might want to consider a car/mileage allowance — a flat sum for a whole year, so the board doesn’t have to approve the mayor’s expenses every month.
Ponds bristled that her travel expenses were being called into question. She said she didn’t always hand in all of her mileage logged on the town’s behalf.
“I’ve made the point I wanted to make,” LaFevers said.
The Board of Aldermen tabled the matter Monday night.
“It needs to be resolved,” Ponds said.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.