City-parish staff and agency board members are free to travel internationally to attend conferences and seminars for the time being, after the Metro Council rescinded a recent ordinance amendment Wednesday night.
The council last month approved an amendment to the city-parish policy restricting city-parish workers or board members from traveling outside of the 48 contiguous states without obtaining a waiver from the Metro Council.
Councilman Trae Welch had said when he placed the item on last month’s agenda that it was in response to reports of excessive conference trips by Rose Doolittle, a designee on the Baton Rouge Metro Airport Commission representing state Sen. Yvonne Dorsey.
Councilman Ulysses “Bones” Addison amended the item to include all city-parish employees, not just board appointees, and the measure was then approved by the council.
Since then, some council members said they have received complaints from city-parish employees who were affected by the ordinance change and had already budgeted for their travel.
The council also since then has received a list of trips taken by city-parish workers between Jan. 1, 2009, and May 25, 2012, that showed about $50,000 worth of trips being reimbursed with taxpayer funds for the 3½-year period.
“It was not excessive,” Councilwoman Ronnie Edwards said after seeing the report of trips taken outside the 48 contiguous states during that period. “To engage us (the Metro Council) in the process of using waivers isn’t the best use of our time.”
The 22 trips detailed in the report, which was prepared by the city-parish Finance Department at Edwards’ request, included travel to conferences and meetings in Argentina, Canada, Jamaica, London, Puerto Rico, Alaska, Hawaii, the Mexican Riviera and St. Maarten in the Caribbean.
Agencies sending representatives were the Baton Rouge Film Commission, the Library System, the Fire Department, City Court, Public Works Department, City Police, the Downtown Development District, Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control, and the Metro Council.
The report shows Councilwoman C. Denise Marcelle traveled to St. Maarten this year for the National Bar Association Judicial Council’s Mid-Winter Meeting at a cost to the city-parish of $2,563. In 2010, Edwards and Councilwoman Donna Collins-Lewis attended the National Organization of Black Elected Legislative Women Conference in Anchorage, Alaska, at a total cost to the city-parish of $4,511.
City Court Judge Yvette Alexander made a trip outside of the 48 states each of the four years examined at a total cost of $6,795, the report shows.
In 2009, Alexander attended the Annual Jamaican Sunset Continuing Legal Education Conference in Negril, Jamaica, but the city-parish only paid airfare.
In the years 2010 through 2012, Alexander attended the National Bar Association Judicial Council Mid-Winter meetings in Honolulu, San Juan, Puerto Rico, and St. Maarten.
The only other traveler on the report who took multiple trips outside the country was Jenny Wong, with the Library System, who traveled to Canada in 2009 and 2011 for conferences at a total cost of $3,378.
“It’s excessive if anyone goes out of the country for a seminar that is not part and parcel of their business,” Councilman Chandler Loupe said after the meeting. “Whether you’re a volunteer or paid, it’s not the kind of thing taxpayers want to see their money being spent on.”
Some council members said they would like the item to come back before the council, but only apply it to the city-parish’s board and commission members.
The council voted to rescind the travel restriction, 9-0. Loupe did not cast a vote. Joel Boé and Rodney “Smokie” Bourgeois were absent when the vote was taken.
In other business: Marcelle made a third pitch to the Metro Council asking for $50,000 from the council’s discretionary fund for summer youth programs in her district. Last month she made two similar requests, both of which were rejected.
This time, several children from her district showed up holding signs, asking the council to fund a camp that would have been held in the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center.
“I would like if we could get summer camp to keep us occupied and keep us out of trouble for the summer,” 11-year-old Chrissima O’Conner said.
The council killed the item, 4-3, with three abstentions. Voting in favor were Mike Walker, Loupe, Marcelle and Tara Wicker. Voting against were Welch, Scott Wilson and Alison Gary. Edwards, Bourgeois and Donna Collins-Lewis abstained.
Wicker, Collins-Lewis and Edwards have also been competing in recent weeks to fund different summer programs.