by Sarah Curry
Director of Fiscal Policy Studies
Should the city of High Point tax dollars pay for a council man to take a cross-country trip when he owes the city over $32,000? See what this public records request by The High Point Enterprise shows as the other council members email to each other about the issue.
Already in debt to the city to the tune of more than $32,000, City Councilman Foster Douglas wants the city to pick up the tab for him to travel cross-country to attend a conference later this year.
Douglas on Monday asked city officials to make travel arrangements and purchase airline tickets for him to attend the National League of Cities conference in Seattle in November.
The total cost to the city for airfare, hotel, registration and meals would be about $2,500.
City Manager Strib Boynton on Tuesday asked council members to advise him whether to approve the request in light of Douglas’ unpaid $32,216.35 judgment he owes the city stemming from a lawsuit he brought against High Point that was thrown out of court in 2003.
Council members responded in a flurry of emails to each other on Tuesday after they learned of Douglas’ request. The emails were released by the city Thursday after a public records request by The High Point Enterprise.
Councilwoman Judy Mendenhall wrote that she doesn’t believe the city should fund the trip for Douglas.
“I have a difficult time accepting (Douglas’) wish to spend this kind of money on a trip that none of the rest of us plan to attend … especially since he voted against the budget due to his concern about our spending and the impact it has on our citizens,” Mendenhall wrote. “The fact that he has consistently refused to make arrangements to repay the City for his debt is something I also don’t understand and can’t accept, but I suppose it is up the voters in his ward to decide how they feel about this. If in fact these types of meetings (are) helpful in that you bring ideas back to (council), it would also seem lost on him since he attends very few of our special meetings and often misses regular sessions when he could share what he has learned.”
Councilman Jason Ewing also weighed in against approving the request and asked whether the council could adopt a policy requiring council members and city staff to be current on any debt to the city in order to be eligible for travel or expense reimbursement.
“It is not fair to the taxpayers of High Point to pay for Mr. Douglas to enjoy a cross country trip on their dime with his unpaid judgment still lingering,” Ewing wrote.
Councilman Britt Moore wrote that approving the request could reflect poorly on the council as a whole in the eyes of some residents.
“It would only fuel the negative perception that council is dealing with at this time,” Moore wrote. “Citizens would be better served if the money was applied directly to a need in Ward 2 — street repair, Boys and Girls (Club), a church that may be struggling or a family member that can’t find the money to pay for their kids to go back to school.”
Douglas declined to comment on the issue Thursday.
The city typically doesn’t require council approval for travel on city business by any council member. The city budgets $13,500 for travel expenses for council, which breaks down to $1,500 per member.
Council on Monday is expected to discuss whether to adopt a travel policy.
During the fiscal year that ended June 30, the city spent $2,480.68 on travel for Douglas. City records show he attended National League of Cities events in Boston in November 2012 and in Washington, DC in March 2013.