Landis approves travel policy for town officials

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 2, 2016

LANDIS – The town of Landis has a new travel policy for elected officials after a board member said too much was spent on a conference at Myrtle Beach last year.

The Board of Alderman adopted the policy Monday night after some discussion, but before several residents took town officials to task for the spending.

Alderman Dennis Brown made the motion to adopt the policy, which was seconded by Mayor Pro Tem Dorland Abernathy.

A policy was proposed at the Jan. 4 board meeting after Abernathy argued that the previous board could have saved $5,000 by having a travel policy. Credit card statements and reimbursement requests showed that the previous board spent almost $17,000 – over half of their yearly travel budget – during a three-day 2015 ElectriCities conference in Myrtle Beach.

Two board members requested seven days of meeting pay for the event.

The new policy states:

  • The mayor or town manager will review and approve all requests before the date of departure.
  • Any events less than 50 miles from Landis will not qualify for overnight lodging.
  • If a town vehicle is available, no mileage reimbursement will be given for a personal vehicle.
  • Lodging, when required, must be secured at the lowest available group or government rate.
  • Meal allowance per day is $75 per board member. Any charges over this amount will be reimbursed to the town.
  • No town funds will be used or reimbursed to for alcohol expenses.
  • Special meeting pay will only bee issued for days of a conference that are actually attended.
  • All receipts must be turned in to the mayor within five business days. Failure to do so will result in a forfeiture of reimbursement.

After Brown made a motion to adopt the policy, Abernathy asked to pause for the discussion of one of the items – a stipulation that mileage will be provided on a personal vehicle at the IRS rate and a town-issued credit card may be issued to purchase fuel, with parking, toll fees and public transit charges covered by the town.

“If we’ve got a personal vehicle, we need to rephrase it or something to state that they get the mileage rate, or if they’re using the town vehicle then they would use the town credit card,” Abernathy said.

Charges made to town credit cards during the ElectriCities conference showed that gas was purchased on the card and a mileage reimbursement was later submitted.

“If we’re charging gas on the city’s credit card am I going to fill my car up when I get back? Am I going to fill it up on the way down there? . . . That’s why we don’t need to be putting gas on the town’s card,” Abernathy said.

“That sounds better for the town,” Mayor Mike Mahaley said.

The board agreed to amend the policy to read that no gas may be purchased on the town credit card to fuel a personal vehicle. A reimbursement request may be submitted for the standard IRS rate, which is currently 54 cents per mile. Brown amended his motion, Abernathy seconded and the motion passed unanimously.

“We’re putting it to rest on the travel policy,” Mahaley said. “We promised that we were going to come up with a travel policy, do it quickly, and we did tonight. And it’s going to serve us well, I believe.”

But the town’s public comment section — after the board took action on the new travel rules — was alive with opinions on the conference that sparked a need for the policy.

Darryl Overcash said that the discussion on whether the money should have been spent on high restaurant charges reminded him of a discussion between a school resource officer and a group of kids.

“’Why’d you do that?’ ‘Well, we knew it was wrong.’ ‘If you know it was wrong why’d you do it?’ Well, they wasn’t planning on getting caught,” he said.

Overcash then addressed Abernathy and Brown, the only current board members who attended the 2015 ElectriCities conference.

“Mr. Abernathy and Mr. Brown, as a citizen of Landis, I’m ashamed of you,” he said.

Tony Corriher referenced a $174 charge to the town’s credit card at a North Myrtle Beach Restaurant, Martini.

“Board members should remember that there are fixed income people in this town, some of them basically live off of Meals on Wheels,” Corriher said.

Next, Corriher addressed a statements made by Brown and former Alderman Roger Safrit that they and former Alderman Tony Hilton went down several days early to prepare for the conference.

“How dumb do you guys think we are to believe that you guys went early and stayed late to talk to engineers and other officials. If so, name these people and share with us what you learned. I dog dare you to,” he said.

Corriher called trips like the conference “junkets and free vacations,” and said that neighboring town officials called him to comment that board member’s spending at these conferences were like “drunken sailors.”

Corriher ended his comment with a plea:

“New mayor and board members, get us back to the basics,” he said.

In other business:

  • Utility bills will be late due to an issue with data transfers. When issued, bills will be for a normal, 30-day reading.
  • Nearly all residential water meters have been changed out for automatic read meters.
  • The board voted to sell raw water from Lake Wright to Warrior Golf Club for irrigation purposes.
  • The board scheduled its annual budget retreat for March 19.
  • Abernathy reported on a transportation conference he and Alderman Tommy Garver attended. The grading of the railroad and the Kimball overpass are approximately 68 percent complete and should be finished by November 2016, Abernathy reported. The Interstate 85 and Old Beatty Ford Road interchange will begin moving in 2020, with construction set to begin in 2022.

“Yes it’s a done deal, but it may not be done in our lifetime,” Abernathy said.