Landis board will not attend ElectriCities conference

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 13, 2016

By Rebecca Rider

LANDIS — It’s been nearly a year since the Landis Board of Aldermen spent more than half of its travel budget at a three-day 2015 ElectriCities conference in Myrtle Beach, S.C. The board announced at its July meeting that it would not be attending this year’s conference.

During board comments Monday, Alderman Tommy Garver declared he would not go to the 2016 conference, to be held Aug. 11-13 in Concord, citing a high registration fee. Garver, elected in November, said he went to register for the event and then saw the $500 price tag.

“We’re a big customer,” he said, “I shouldn’t have to pay $500 to go to their little conference, so I didn’t register. I’m not going to go.”

The event has been a point of contention since the town’s January board meeting, where Alderman Dorland Abernathy revealed that Landis didn’t have a travel policy for elected officials. Records requests showed a $17,000 bill for the 2015 conference – more than half of the budgeted $30,000 for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

In February the board approved a travel policy for elected officials, and in June slashed its travel budget – from $30,000 to $7,000. Garver said the town went through “a lot of pain” to get the budget balanced and reasonable.

Newly elected Mayor Mike Mahaley said he would not be going to this year’s conference, either.

“I don’t think anyone from Landis should go to that. I can’t see why we would pay $50 to go to it,” he said.

Should all five board members attend, it would take a $2,500 chunk out of an already slim travel budget.

“This is the town’s money – citizens’ money – it doesn’t belong to us. We get a small salary, we should be satisfied with it,” Mahaley said.

Aldermen Seth Moore, Dennis Brown and Abernathy confirmed that they would not be attending the conference. In an interview after the meeting, Abernathy cited over-attendance and low participation by previous boards. However, Abernathy said there was some benefit in attending.

“I feel the town should have a presence there, but I don’t think it’s necessary to send the whole board,” he said.

The conference includes best practices workshops that Abernathy said could be useful for public works staff or the town manager.

“I think there should be a presence there,” he said.

Mahaley also pushed to further control board expenses by announcing his intent to push for a future policy that would eliminate special meeting pay for board members. The topic was on Monday’s meeting agenda, but was removed during agenda amendments.

Board members are allowed to request $50 reimbursement for special meetings, but Mahaley said he thought some took it too far, referencing the previous mayor’s practice.

In March, record requests revealed that between July 2014 and the end of his term in fall 2015, former mayor James Furr requested reimbursement for more than 90 meetings. On June 17, 2015 Furr requested reimbursement for 44 special meetings, from a period between December and June and included events like the town’s 5k run to benefit cancer and a funeral.

Mahaley said he wasn’t sure when the practice started, but it needed to stop.

“I don’t think it’s right. We knew what we was getting into when we took this job. It’s a service job,” he said.

Town Manager Reed Linn said he believes special meetings pay began during the administration of former Mayor Fred Steen, who served as the town’s mayor between 1995 and 2003.

After citizen comment, Abernathy added that he was not opposed to the idea, but wanted to postpone the conversation until more information was available. Abernathy said in an interview after the meeting that it wasn’t clear if the pay was a town policy or just a habit.

“No one was really clear about what our policy is. We know what the practice has been,” he said.

If there wasn’t a policy, he said, the board should implement one.

“I’m not opposed to talking about it,” he said.

Mahaley said he would bring the issue back at a later meeting.

Contact reporter Rebecca Rider at 704-797-4264.