Reimbursements for city council travels throughout pandemic half of 2018-19
By Natalie Anderson
SALISBURY — While council members spent at least $16,000 for travels made during the 2018-19 fiscal year, travels dropped to just half of that since then.
Since August 2019, city council members have spent $8,635 on travels, with only $631 reimbursed during the 2020-21 fiscal year, according to records obtained by the Post. The reports include the cost of travel and other related costs such as food, lodging and mileage rates determined by the U.S. General Services Administration, for all council members, City Manager Lane Bailey, City Clerk Kelly Baker and City Attorney Graham Corriher. The reports did not include additional travels that weren’t reimbursed by the city.
Each year, a travel budget is adopted within each department. For the 2019-20 fiscal year, a total of $11,500 was adopted for travels among city council members. A total of $3,500 was adopted for council support staff, which includes Baker, Deputy City Clerk Tiffany Crook and former Senior Administrative Specialist Diana Cummings, who retired in March. Additionally, a total of $20,500 was adopted in the administration budget, which covers the cost of travel for Bailey, Corriher, Baker’s role as Administrative Services Director and Human Relations Manager Anne Little.
A more modest amount was adopted in the 2020-21 budget in each department due to the pandemic, Bailey told the Post. The council was allotted $9,500, council support staff received $2,000 and administrative staff received $14,000. Of those amounts, only $631 has been spent in the administrative staff travel budget.
In the 2018-19 fiscal year, the budget for council members was $10,482, but was exceeded as the actual amount spent was $16,682.
For the upcoming fiscal year, Bailey is proposing $11,500 for city council and support staff travels and $14,250 for administrative staff.
Reports show Mayor Pro Tem Al Heggins’ requested travel reimbursements more than other council members, with a total of $5,449 reimbursed by the city. But all reimbursements are from seven conferences and meetings Heggins attended in 2019 as the city’s mayor. The city did not reimburse Heggins for any travel conducted in 2020.
Among the conferences is the U.S. Conference of Mayors in D.C., which was the most costly at $2,658 and is a typical travel expense for Salisbury mayors. Those meetings allow city leaders to meet with federal lawmakers to rally support and funding for initiatives back home. Other conferences Heggins attended include a trip to the White House to celebrate the Rowan Little League softball championship in October, the “My Brother’s Keeper Summit” in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the Atlanta Census Regional Summit and the Local Progress National Convening in Detroit.
Heggins did not respond to a request from the Post for comment about her travels.
Bailey’s travel totals were just shy of Heggins’ total. Making stops in Florida, Tennessee and Mississippi on the city’s behalf, Bailey attended a dozen conferences. Most of his travels are primarily due to his role with the International City/County Management Association in which he served as the Southeast regional vice president. In total, the city covered $1,429 for travel and $3,880 for other eligible reimbursements.
Bailey told the Post he attends each annual ICMA conference as part of maintaining his credentials.
“ICMA provides multiple sessions on a broad range of topics impacting municipalities across the United States,” Bailey said. “Attending provides important insight as well as ideas for how other communities handle or work though issues that may be impacting Salisbury. The same is true for the NC City and County Managers Association, where the issues are focused on those local governments in North Carolina are working on.”
Bailey added that the Alliance for Innovation Big Ideas conference in Florida in September 2019 centered on diversity and inclusion, and provided insight on how other communities are working to improve diversity and inclusion.
Mayor Karen Alexander
Alexander was reimbursed for three conferences, including the Mayors Innovation Project meeting and U.S. Conference of Mayors in February 2020 as well as a Congressional City Conference in April 2020. The total amount reimbursed to Alexander by the city totals $2,027, and $62 was paid back to the city for Baker and guest meals.
Alexander also attended numerous other conferences with her role in the North Carolina League of Municipalities, but those expenses were covered by the league, she told the Post. The priciest travel was to the U.S. Conference of Mayors in Washington, D.C., which cost $1,079.
City Attorney Graham Corriher
Corriher was reimbursed for two trips in 2019, including the North Carolina Municipal Attorneys Summer Conference in Asheville and a trip to Chapel Hill for a UNC School of Government Advanced Fair Labor Standards Act course. He was reimbursed for a deposition in September 2020, and $1,707 for the Congressional City Conference. In total, Corriher was reimbursed $2,946.
City Clerk Kelly Baker
Baker’s travels totaled $2,539, with a trip to D.C. for the Congressional City Conference the most costly at $1,846.
Baker also attended a race and equity training session, three Centralina Regional Council trips and the North Carolina City and County Managers Association Winter Seminar in Winston-Salem. In September 2019, Baker was reimbursed for a course with the UNC School of Government called “Managing Conflict Effectively.”
Council Member David Post
The city reimbursed three travels for Post in 2019 and 2020, including the Mayors Innovation Project annual summer meeting in Columbia, South Carolina, in 2019 and winter policy meeting of the Mayors Innovation Project in February 2020, held in Washington, D.C. Additionally, Post made another trip to D.C. for the Congressional City Conference in March 2020.
In total, Post was only reimbursed $528 after requesting not to be reimbursed for both Mayors Innovation Project meetings.
Post said he recalls during the March 2020 meeting in D.C. that lots of hand sanitizer was being used as COVID-19 had just been declared a pandemic, but there were no masks or social distancing requirements implemented at that time. Only California had declared a statewide stay-at-home order, but former President Donald Trump declared the virus a national emergency days earlier.
Council members Tamara Sheffield and Brian Miller were not reimbursed for any travel in 2019 or 2020.