published Friday, December 24th, 2010

Chattanooga council getting stingy on travel expenses

by Cliff Hightower


• 2002: $30,311.93

• 2003: $22,173.65

• 2004: $17,434.15

• 2005: $23,380.52

• 2006: $9,071.23

• 2007: $5,016.93

• 2008: $5,403.95

• 2009: $0

• 2010: $936.52

Source: City of Chattanooga

The Chattanooga City Council used to spend tens of thousands of dollars to travel all across the country, but no more.

Nine years ago, Chattanooga paid more than $30,000 for council travel. This year, total expenses are $936.52, city records show.

"There's an attitude of frugality," said Councilman Jack Benson, who was elected in 2001. "[Until now] we were never put in an economic situation that made us look at that."

Records for past years show council trips to Tampa, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; and Seattle. This year, just two trips were requested and approved.

Council Chairman Manny Rico asked for $213.22 as reimbursement for hotel expenses during a trip to China. Councilman Peter Murphy headed to Cleveland, Ohio, for a National Youth Sports conference and asked for $723.30 in reimbursements for hotel, lodging and gas.

Mayor Ron Littlefield, who served two terms as a councilman in the 1990s and early 2000s, said he appreciated the council being thrifty during the recession. But he'd like for more council members to travel outside Chattanooga.

"I have been surprised no one is traveling," he said. "At a certain point, it becomes counterproductive."

Meeting counterparts in other cities gives officials a chance to "steal ideas" and keeps Chattanooga in the spotlight, he said.

"You can't get those ideas from watching the afternoon news," he said.

Randy Burns, the council's management analyst and internal auditor, said the overall travel budget has shrunk.

Ten years ago, the travel budget was around $45,000 and even included money for support staff to travel, he said. The 2010-11 fiscal year travel budget is $17,500, records show. Council members are reimbursed $200 a month in local travel expenses, and hardly anyone is taking advantage of that, he said.

He said there have been two elections in the last 10 years and the council has changed.

"We have different personalities and the environments are different," Burns said.

Benson said attitudes changed because of the recession and public scrutiny over the council increasing taxes and fees, especially stormwater fees.

Rico said he doesn't think travel is that necessary and that council members need to look at home first. This council's spending will be scrutinized, he said.

"The whole attitude of spending taxpayers' money has changed," he said. "We shouldn't spend any more than we have to."

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fairmon said...

Councilman Benson's statement that we shouldn't spend any more than we have to sounds good and has voter appeal but doing that would be more popular than saying it. Walk the talk may be the message the council should get. A brief audit reveals an assessment of employee use of work time and productivity in some operations would be a good start. The true non political return on some spending would be a positive move. The return on owned businesses and the need and justification of owning them may yield more than those reviewing may realize, a private study would be valuable. A wage survey and adjusting compensation, pay and benefits, to be comparable to the private sector for like work is a gold mine.

Economics and business acumen doesn't appear to be a council strength. The mayor is still delusional and his dreaming is a nightmare to many citizens. The socialist behavior of the city owning businesses that compete with those privately owned is not appropriate. Significant unimproved real estate holdings that generate no revenue is not responsible behavior. Many would like to hear an explanation of the old farmers market transactions and the current plans for it. At some point and probably in the near future the cities bond debt and pension funding may become a crisis. How many know what the cities debt obligations are?

"We hope" is a frequently used term by the council and mayor. Hoping is not a viable strategy. Special interest and activist appear to be the primary information sources of the council and mayor. How many council members have toured the city in total and talked to those too busy working and paying taxes to keep up with city politics?

December 24, 2010 at 5:58 a.m.
Allison12 said...

More to come on the Tn Par Property, or Farmers Market. will be back info.

December 24, 2010 at 6:51 a.m.
slr3 said...

Every time I read something concerning the city council or Mayor I am reminded of the tax increases rammed down our throats by both. Stormwater and property as well.

As a refresher , the councilmembers who were in lock step with Littlefield in raising our taxes are LADD,ROBINSON,BERZ,RICO, and BENSON. Their votes should be remembered at the next election. Had either one of these voted against the Mayor's budget , we would now be in much better shape.

Harp 3399 hit's the nail on the head. These people have forgotten that they work for us taxpayers- we don't work for them. The public dole is completely out of hand as compared to the private sector. If these people had to earn a living in private enterprise they would starve to death. The government "shrine" at 1250 Market street should be downsized.

Those voting against the tax increase were MURPHY,SCOTT,McGARY and GILBERT. Whatever their motives , their votes speak volumes.

December 24, 2010 at 7:25 a.m.
fairmon said...

Scott actually recommended and considered alternatives trying to avoid the increase. McGary stated on his radio show you just couldn't manage city affairs or government like a business. I disagree with that and he never elaborated. If it can't be run like a business then divest and quit running the Chattanoogan Hotel and Restaurant, Ross's Marina, The Pharmacy, the Tivoli the Auditorium, two golf courses, a construction business plus others and divest the unimproved real estate.

Someone in this elite group will make a run for the mayors job in 2012. I am prepared to spend several thousand and a lot of time seeing that they are not successful. I would like to see all but Scott replaced. I want a candidate that has not held or run for a political office, someone with demonstrated success in managing a large business. Someone that is credible, has the right motives and considers all citizens in decision making.

December 24, 2010 at 8:48 a.m.
Allison12 said...

Harp3339, Right on target. However, beware of including McGary in the group of no tax. He voted for, before it voted against. I would welcome Pierce back any day of the week to replace McGary.

December 24, 2010 at 11:56 a.m.
fairmon said...

The only one I would find acceptable would be Scott. All others need to be replaced. In my opinion, McGary seeks the most popular thing with those he thinks will fund and support his being re-elected. He is fishing for support to make a run for the mayor position. May the good lord help us if he should be elected.

McGary stated oh his radio show he had to evaluate whether he could afford to stay in politics any longer, perhaps it was time to seek a different career etc. The fact is neither he nor we can afford him to stay. We need to encourage him to seek another career, perhaps one where he works for a living and is accountable for profits even when the government confiscates a little more of his revenue.

December 24, 2010 at 4:58 p.m.
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