Hawaii meeting not so extravagant, says commission chair

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY JERRY ENGLER
When Marion County Treasurer Jeannine Bateman travels to Honolulu, Hawaii, in July for the National Association of Counties Conference, she risks drawing some of the criticism being expressed across the country from taxpayers who don’t want county officials taking what looks like a vacation at taxpayers’ expense.

The Associated Press reported recently that the criticism is coming from all over the nation, ranging from a critic in New Iberia, La., who doesn’t want members of the parish council going when they’ve cut 4-H funds, to Reno County in Kansas, where a Hutchinson critic says plans for the three county commissioners and county administrator to attend are outrageous.

Bob Hein, chairman of the Marion County Board of Commissioners, acknowledged that Bateman is drawing some of the same criticism from persons who perceive Hawaii only as an ideal vacation spot.

But he agreed with Ed Ferguson, NAC executive director, that as one of the 50 states, Hawaii has the same right to host the conference as any other state.

Ferguson said Hawaiians point out that they usually are the ones who have to foot the extra travel and hotel expenses when they attend the conference in the other states.

Nobody was complaining when the 3,000 to 4,000 county officials who usually attend the conference were in Phoenix, Ariz., clinging to inside air conditioning during 110-degree heat outdoors, Ferguson said.

Ferguson said officials come to the conferences year after year because they have the chance to share problem-solving, network with other county officials, and gain valuable experience.

Hein said that’s what he expects from Bateman when she goes to the conference because Marion County commissioners through more than one term have found Bateman to be reliable and knowledgeable.

He feels the taxpayers of Marion County can feel assured that “she will come back with good information that will be useful to us.

“I feel it will be very worthwhile,” he said. “It’s been good for us to belong to NAC.”

Hein said Bateman will be drawing money for the trip-which ranges nationally from $2,000 to $3,000-from the special auto fund that is controlled entirely within her office for expenses.

The fund comes from auto licensing fees.

Hein said a county treasurer isn’t obligated to turn any of that money over to county administration, but Bateman has been “very good” about turning over the excess amount from the special auto fund to the county general fund every year.

Hein said he thought it totaled more than $40,000 last year.

Bateman already has made plans to cut her expenses by rooming with another attendee, Hein said. He thinks NAC also may reimburse some of Bateman’s expenses.

He believed that the last time a Marion County official went to the conference was when Linda Peterson, a county commissioner in the 1990s, went because she was a board member of the Kansas Association of Counties.

Hein said Marion County continually has turned to KAC and NAC for information and support.

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