Treasurer’s spending questioned

Published 9:01 pm Saturday, November 6, 2010

The city treasurer spent more than $2,000 for three nights’ lodging for five employees during a June conference at a Williamsburg hotel, an analysis of his travel and training accounts reveals.

Treasurer Ron Williams’ travel and training expenses are under the microscope after anonymous letters, signed by “A Chuckatuck Taxpayer,” were sent and hand-delivered to local media, constitutional officers and City Council members. The letters included a printout of the treasurer’s office travel and training account expenses for fiscal year 2010.

Councilman Charles Parr requested a report from City Manager Selena Cuffee-Glenn on Williams’ spending during Wednesday’s council meeting. The handwritten letters included a cryptic postscript that read “I will be expecting a response by Nov. 3rd, 2010. I will be at the council meeting watching.”

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According to the report, Williams spent about $12,847 on travel and training last year. All of it, he says, was necessary for him and his 15 employees to perform the duties with which they are charged.

“I just feel very strongly about continuing professional development,” Williams said. “Our work is better because of it, and I think we better serve the citizens because of it.”

Every travel and training expense must be submitted by Williams to be approved by an employee in the finance department, he said.

Many of the line-item expenses in the account are mileage reimbursements for employees who drive their personal cars to the satellite office in North Suffolk or to perform tax collection duties, Williams said.

However, larger items include $1,325 for Williams to attend the Treasurers’ Association of Virginia treasurers’ conference, as well as a year total of $3,708 for mileage on Williams’ vehicle — a total of more than 7,400 miles.

Williams said while the conference is not mandatory, it is “expected” and “common practice” that he attends.

“Training is a very important part of our mission, and we take it very seriously,” Williams said. “It is a very big responsibility to be the elected treasurer of this city.”

The $2,241 for five employees to stay overnight at the Williamsburg conference was a necessary expense because it included late seminars and speakers, as well as networking opportunities that are important, Williams said.

“Conferences like that have activities in the evenings,” he said. “They’re designed for interacting with peers. It’s part of the indirect training process.”

For example, he said, networking with others can prove invaluable because “they may have crossed a bridge you’re getting ready to cross, and you can share that information.”

Many items on the budget include registration for employees to attend smaller conferences — many held by the treasurers’ association — ranging between $65 and $200. Williams said smaller seminars are often held on specific topics, such as new tax laws, on which it is vital his employees are well-versed.

In addition, employees also attend classes to work toward certification. A certified employee does not receive any additional salary, but the classes help the employees perform their jobs better.

“Investment in your employees is the best investment you can make,” Williams said. “The classes are so valuable because they are directly related to the work that we do.”

Parr said he expects the report he requested to be presented at the Nov. 17 meeting.