ST. LOUIS – Wasted tax money is wasted tax money, no matter what the amount.
Those trustees do their share of traveling on the taxpayers’ dime, with little accountability and questionable benefit to the retiree system.
As a group, they spent $32,381 in 2016 – not a lot considering the system’s $7 million annual budget. But it was still more than enough to make several board members call for changes.
Board policy allows members to travel freely at taxpayer expense, to as many conferences and conventions as they want, with a great deal of spending freedom.
According to a 2017 story in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, they are allowed to receive cash advances of up to $75 for each day of travel to spend on food and miscellaneous items, be reimbursed for items that cost less than $15 without documentation, charge hotel stays for the night before their events start and the night after they ended, and be reimbursed for personal items like liquor and room service.
Board member Christina Bennett recently proposed changes to the travel policy.
“They take advantage of the ability to travel,” Bennett was quoted as saying by the Post Dispatch.
Bennett told the media that as many as half of the board members sometimes attend the same conference, even though their individual travel costs vary a great deal. She also noted that none of the traveling board members ever discuss the knowledge they’ve supposedly gained with their colleagues.
“What is the benefit to the fund of having someone travel six times in one year, and there’s no requirement for sharing of information?” Bennett was quoted as saying.
Almost unbelievably, several of Bennett’s fellow board members reportedly became angry about her proposed changes to the travel policy and voiced their opinions at a meeting.
One of them – Charles Shelton – was one of two board members who reportedly accounted for more than half of the board’s travel costs in the previous five years.
“We stay within our budget,” Shelton was quoted as saying in the Post Dispatch. “We talk about the budget and travel like we’re doing something exorbitant, like we’re going way over the limit and incurring some expenses that just aren’t even there. You don’t learn anything sitting here talking to you. Cause I don’t.”
While some traveling board members may have felt threatened by the reform proposal, we’re certain many others were grateful to Bennett for insisting that all tax dollars – even small amounts – be spent wisely.