Johnson questions council’s travel policies

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 7, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

All City Council members should be given the same opportunities for professional development, said Councilwoman Linda T. Johnson.

Earlier this week, Johnson said she wasn’t aware that Councilman Charles Brown had attended a three-week senior executive course at Harvard University in July 2002 until several months after his return.

Email newsletter signup

&uot;Is it customary for some council members not to be made aware of trips that other council members are taking on city dollars?&uot; Johnson said during last Wednesday’s council meeting.

Council members attending programs without their colleagues should come back and share what they have learned, Johnson said.

Although Mayor E. Dana Dickens III favored her suggestion, Brown adamantly disagreed.

&uot;I was elected to answer to the people…not this council,&uot; said Brown. &uot;I’m not a secretary and I’m not going to try to be a secretary. If I go to a conference … I’m not going to spend half the time taking notes

&uot;Mr. Mayor, I will tell you now — read my lips – I am not going to do it.&uot;

Currently, the council does not have a policy that requires public reports to be made in such situations, Dickens said.

Several other council members have indicated they weren’t aware of Brown’s trip to Harvard, which occurred during former City Manager Myles E. Standish’s tenure. Standish attended the same course last year.

Nonetheless, Brown’s trip was not being kept a secret, Dickens said.

Dickens said he believes it important to share information and skills that would benefit all council members.

&uot;If I go to a seminar – whether it is in town or away – and I learn something, I think it needs to be shared,&uot; said Dickens, adding that he is preparing a written report on a recent smart growth conference he attended.

&uot;It is very beneficial for other people to benefit from my exposure.&uot;

It’s already happened in many cases, Dickens said. For example, during the recent National League of Cities convention in Salt Lake City, council members went to different classes that were happening simultaneously and shared the information later.

&uot;It’s not always been in the format of a written report,&uot; Dickens said. &uot;But when we go to things like that, …there is a good amount of sharing information that goes on.&uot;

Brown’s Harvard trip moved to the forefront after local resident Leroy Schmidt challenged the city’s expenditures during a council meeting last month.

According to city documents received Wednesday, Suffolk paid $3,462.53 for Brown to attend the conference. Specifically, the city paid $2,500 of the program’s $9,200 tuition. The remaining $962.30 in city funds covered transportation expenses and meals.

Receipts show that Brown was not compensated for any alcohol shown on receipts.

Brown called Schmidt’s allegations &uot;bogus&uot;

According to Brown and city documents, the remainder of Brown’s $6,700 tuition was funded by private sources. Records show that the councilman received a $3,000 fellowship from Harvard and that he paid $3,700 in tuition.

Part of his portion was paid by his employer, Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Brown said.