Charleston Council Discusses Travel Costs

January 21, 2011

Investigative Reports

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The NerveBy Marc Knapp
Citizen Reporter

Principles were at the root of a key issue during the Jan. 11 Charleston City Council meeting.

Specifically, the matter concerned travel spending by council members. In the past an amount has been determined in each year’s budget for members’ travel expense.

No limit was set on spending for each member, and the amount was drawn down on a first-come first-served basis.

It seems the past practice worked well when coffers were full and the amount in aggregate was more than $40,000. But things have been tight in recent years and the budgeted figure for 2011 is $25,000. Last year, the figure was $18,500.

Some council members planned travel only in the latter part of the year but found that the fund has been totally depleted by other council members.

Councilman Aubry Alexander proposed last night that the pot should be split equally among council members and that in the current year the limit on travel spending should be about $2,100 per member.

This proposal was supported by Mayor Joe Riley and others, but not enough for the proposal to be adopted.

The majority thought that council members themselves could exercise restraint and that strict adherence to the per-capita limit could restrict legitimate travel.

Both sides may have a point but how self disciplining will council members be?

During the session, councilman Jimmy Gallant III protested a great deal and a subsequent Post and Courier article may have indicated why. Gallant drew a large share of funds from the pool last year – $5,000.

According to the Post and Courier, the Gallant made more trips than any other council member in both 2010 and 2009. In the latter year, he spent $7,794 when the total budget was $18,500.

However, some other council members were excessive in their spending, as well, as total travel spending that year amounted to more than $35,000.

There was no contrition in Gallant’s lengthy speech last night, only justification. He was attending conferences that indirectly would benefit the city, he said.