Wednesday, June 10, 2015
Rockville Mayor & Council change rules on their compensation for travel, events
Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton asked Acting City Clerk Sara Taylor Ferrell if the discussion was initiated by any abuse by an elected official. "There has never been any abuse by the Mayor and Council on travel in my time here," Ferrell answered.
Palakovich Carr said she wanted to have "more transparency, more guidance about how those funds get spent." Currently budgeted at $20,000 per year, and within one fund to cover the Mayor and Council's travel and event attendance, Palakovich Carr suggested it would be "more fair to have individual allocations for each of us," rather than the bulk sum.
"I understand the spirit of that," Councilmember Beryl Feinberg said. "On the other hand, I think elected officials get the trust of people that they are going to act judiciously."
Councilmember Tom Moore had a different take. "It starts to look like a slush fund," he said, adding that he would like unspent travel funds to be returned to the taxpayer. A fundraiser for the Stepping Stones Shelter, for example, was not "educational", he said, and shouldn't be covered by the fund.
Moore made a motion that staff divide the budget.
Onley said, "I think giving everybody a bucket of money is a mistake. We're spending wisely. It has not been abused by any Mayor and Council."
"Do you want to vote transparency or not," Moore asked.
"It's unfortunate that the term 'transparency' is being mixed in," Newton replied, arguing that the Mayor and Council are ambassadors for the city not only in the county, but also at the state level.
Moore's motion failed 3-2, with Newton, Onley and Feinberg dissenting.
Palakovich Carr then made a motion to prohibit using the fund to cover the travel and event expenses of spouses.
Onley said she thought covering spouses' attendance at events was "the right thing to do."
"It's indefensible," countered Moore. "I strongly support" Palakovich Carr's motion, he said. "It's the right thing to do. Most other jurisdictions do not allow this." Feinberg said she would like to see actual data on that point.
Palakovich Carr said attendance by spouses was merely social, not educational.
Newton said her marriage "is a partnership. Sometimes Fred [Newton] is a better ambassador than I." It's "inaccurate to say that spouses attending events are not helping the city." Onley noted that no spouse has ever been compensated for travel in Rockville. "We've managed that money very well," she said.
Moore said he thought the Mayor and Council's stipends were a more appropriate source to pay for travel and registration fees.
Ultimately, Palakovich Carr's motion passed 4-0, with Feinberg abstaining.
A second motion by Palakovich Carr also passed, unanimously, to prohibit incumbent elected officials from spending on events or travel after Election Day, when they might no longer be in office.
"I don't think anyone sitting here would do that," Onley said.
"I am actually stunned that it even needs to be brought up as a motion," Newton said. "I'll vote for it, but I'm disappointed. I think we should have more respect for each other."
Puzzled by what was driving the flurry of motions on the travel issue, Feinberg theorized that "this is symptomatic of other things, I believe," without elaborating on that point.