The Final Cost of the Council Retreat
On February 23, I submitted a public records request regarding the total expenses for the Council Retreat that occurred January 10-12, 2011 at the Hyatt Regency in Cambridge, MD. It took the full 30 days to fulfill my request (as County staff are required to do, by law), but at 4:15 p.m. yesterday, the Council’s Legislative Officer finally provided the documents that provided a summary of expenses for the Council’s Retreat. As Council Chairwoman Turner reported back in January, it did cost in the range of $10,000-$15,000. Here’s a summary:
Hyatt Room, Tax, & Resort Fees: $6074.85
According to the details I received, this amount represents the total cost of 39 room nights, at an average of $155.77 per night. A total of 43 room nights were paid in advance, and although I have not received final confirmation from the Council’s staff, I did speak with Councilman Mel Franklin, who stated that he did not stay at the hotel. He chose to decline the offer to save the County money. Good for him. Because of his thriftiness and a couple of extra room nights, the hotel refunded $1,256.71 to the County. I am following up to find out why these four room nights averaged $314 per night, which is more than double the average of the rest of the rooms. Perhaps a few executive suites were a part of that package.
The room nights occupied by Council members represent 16 total room nights (two nights for each of eight Council members who stayed at the hotel). Assuming Council members brought at least one staff person for the two-night stay, that bumps up the total to 32 room nights. That leaves seven additional room nights paid for by the County, but I am not entirely sure who stayed in those rooms, because the Council staff informed me that the rooms were paid for as a block, and they couldn’t provide a list of persons that stayed in the rooms.
Banquet Charges: $3,698.97
These charges represent the two continental breakfasts, two lunches, and one dinner Council was served at the hotel. I’ll let you be the judge of whether or not that seems like a reasonable price to pay for meals when you travel.
Council Reimbursement: $34 (for valet parking for Councilwoman Andrea Harrison)
No other Council members submitted a request for reimbursement. One staff person requested a mileage reimbursement of $56. I’m perfectly okay with that. You can decide for yourself whether Harrison’s request for reimbursement on valet parking her County vehicle seems reasonable. If you live in her district, you can tell her yourself. I don’t live there, but I am proud that my District 9 Councilman did not incur that kind of expense.
Water’s Edge Restaurant: $3093.67
This is the final bill for the Council’s dinner with County Executive Rushern Baker. I don’t know about you, but that’s quite a costly meal for 10 people (Nine Council members, one County Executive). Perhaps additional staff were also invited to dine with them and that explains the hefty total. However, even if more attended, does this really demonstrate the kind of government spending that Council should authorize for itself while County employees are still being furloughed, wages are frozen, and more service cuts are on the way?
As a taxpayer, this is your bank account that’s represented by their spending. These are your tax dollars funding a “bonding” session for Council at an extravagant resort outside the County. If a $3,000 dinner is a normal expense for our County Executive and County Council members, perhaps they should take out their own pocketbooks and write a check for it. It’s this kind of arrogance within our political establishment that has residents truly outraged.