The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

March 10, 2011

CINDY'S CORNER: Care needs to be taken each year on who goes on D.C. trip

Enid News and Eagle

ENID — By Cindy Allen


 Some city and chamber officials have squirmed at me in the past over my opinion on the annual Chamber-City liaison trip every year to Washington D.C. to lobby on behalf of Vance Air Force Base.

In fact, I’ll admit to being a stinkerpants about this trip and about scrutinizing who goes on the trip on city taxpayer money

In the nine years I’ve been editor of the Enid News & Eagle, I’ve seen all kinds of people go on this trip. The Chamber hosts the trip and several chamber members go to represent their fields or professions or interests. These representatives pay their own way. The chamber does pay for a reception for lawmakers while in D.C.

 Then, there are city people who go – some staff and some members of the commission – on the taxpayer dime.

 I don’t dispute the good will that comes from this annual trip. I also don’t dispute the wonderful job our community has done over the past 15 or 20 years in helping Pentagon officials understand the necessity of keeping Vance – and all bases – vital in Oklahoma.

 I’m just concerned about the perception of this trip to local taxpayers.

 I’ve seen the expense reports from these trips. The folks don’t go to Washington on the cheap. They stay at nice hotels and they eat at very nice restaurants.

 This year, two new city commissioners who haven’t even taken the oath of office went on the trip. An assistant in the city attorney’s office went on the trip. The police chief and fire chief took the trip, as did one sitting commissioner and also the city planner. This is a reasonable size group for the city. One year I raised hell because all the commissioners – and their spouses --- went on the trip. Yet, I do question paying expenses for citizens who aren’t even on the city commission yet. I also think there should be better justification for the police chief and fire chief to go on this trip other than “they haven’t been and it’s their turn to go.” And an assistant in the attorney’s office? Why?

 There are reasons for certain individuals in the city structure to go on the trip. The mayor should go at least every other year and in crucial years, such as BRAC. The sitting city commissioners should rotate so that each gets to go at least one time during his or her term. The city manager, assistant city manager and finance director should rotate regularly to go on the trip. And, we have Mike Cooper, the official liaison, who goes to Washington several times a year and also goes on this trip, courtesy of Enid taxpayers. City people should go on the trip; but, probably no more than 4-5 city representatives whose expenses are paid for by taxpayers should go each year, unless possibly preceding a BRAC year. And, no spouses should ever go again on the city dime. If spouses want to go, they should pay their own way.

 Our local officials tell us this trip to Washington D.C. each year is serious business. I believe them, but if the trip is used as a bonus package for certain employees or city officials, then the seriousness is taken away and it starts to look like a perk, or a bonus

 Our city spends a good chunk of money on Vance Air Force Base. The economic impact of the base cannot be underestimated. And, our Vance Development Authority in the past set the standard for how a base city should work with the base, lawmakers and Pentagon officials.

 Yet, just as we can’t take for granted the value Vance Air Force Base brings to Enid, we can’t take for granted the perception to the local taxpayers of the people who represent the city of Enid on these annual trips.