CRESTVIEW — With a 3-2 vote, the City Council approved funding expenses for any interested council member to attend the Florida League of Cities conference in Hollywood.
Council members Robyn Helt and Thomas Gordon opposed the measure, with Helt protesting “the approval of non-budgeted expenditures.”
City Clerk Betsy Roy estimated the cost to attend the Aug. 14-16 event, including staying at the Westin Diplomat conference hotel and $620 mileage reimbursement, would be $1,700 per person.
Councilman Joe Blocker, however, felt Roy’s estimate was low and actual costs to city taxpayers would be closer to $2,000 per attendee.
Helt criticized council members who favored the proposal, saying, “Every council member sitting on the dais today had the opportunity to request a budget” item for conference travel.
“To bring forward (an) item that could potentially cost $2,000 per council member is not in the best interests of the citizens,” Helt said. “If I elect to go, I would not feel comfortable asking the citizens to pay for it.”
Council President Shannon Hayes and Blocker, who attended last year’s League of Cities conference, said the information and networking opportunities gleaned at the event are invaluable.
“There can't be a price put on knowledge,” Hayes said, adding residents he has spoken to favor city representation at the conference.
Helt disputed the assertion, noting social media backlash when the council approved buying an unbudgeted ad in the conference program, with Helt and Gordon again dissenting.
“If we got in touch with those citizens, we would see they are not so happy-go-lucky when it comes to expending money on non-budgeted items,” she said.
Helt also asked if any of the councilmen who favored attending the conference had considered applying for Florida League of Cities scholarships that could defray the cost to taxpayers. None had.
“I would hope that before asking the citizens for money for something that was not budgeted, they would research this,” Helt said.