Traveling travesty

By Jayson Jacoby / The Baker City Herald

Lean times, these past few years.

But not for everyone.

Oregon state government, for instance, in what seems to us a contradiction of its incessant claims of financial trouble, barely trimmed its spending in areas that could hardly be described as essential.

Unless, of course, you consider it essential that the state pay for employees to attend meetings and conferences in places such as Salishan, Sunriver and, in one case, Gibraltar.

The credit for these troubling revelations goes to The Oregonian.

The Portland newspaper perused hundreds of state records in researching its recent story about travel expenses.

Turns out the state spent about $42 million for travel in 2009, $39 million in 2010, and $40 million in 2011.

Those figures include all travel costs - including trips within Oregon's borders that employees can hardly avoid.

But here's the thing: The state spent the same amount for out-of-state trips andndash; $4.5 million - in 2010 and 2011.

So much for that recession that keeps getting in the news.

And lest anyone wonder whether the state simply couldn't avoid

incurring those bills, The Oregonian noted that some agencies have

reacted responsibly to dwindling revenues.

The state Judicial Department, for instance, cut its travel spending from almost $1 million in 2009 to $650,000 in 2011.

Yet the Secretary of State's office managed to dig up $10,500 earlier

this year to send five managers to a three-day training session at

Kah-Nee-Tah resort near Madras. The purpose: to learn self-awareness,

conflict resolution and communication skills.

Speaking of which, the Department of Transportation could stand to bone up on its skills.

In explaining ODOT's spending $228,000 at Salishan, a resort near

Lincoln City, in the past two years, department spokesman Patrick

Cooney told The Oregonian that Salishan "is as entitled to state

business as any other venue. The coast is an economically distressed

region."

Well, if propping up the tourism industry is the state's goal, we'd

suggest ODOT just send Salishan a check and keep the employees working

at their regular jobs.

And that, ultimately, is the issue here.

State officials should be striving to ensure that as many dollars as

possible pay for employees to do the work that benefits Oregonians.

Obviously the state can't eliminate travel costs. Oregon is a big

state, after all, and many of the citizens who depend on state services

live in remote places.

But it's simply not plausible to argue that the $10,500 the Secretary

of State's office doled out conferred any measurable benefit to

Oregonians. Surely those employees already knew how to communicate and

to resolve conflicts, or they wouldn't be qualified to work as managers.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of this is that just last week Gov.

John Kitzhaber ordered a hiring freeze and urged agency leaders to cut

back on travel.

We can't blame Kitzhaber for 2009 and 2010 - he didn't replace Ted Kulongoski until January of 2011.

But there's no legitimate excuse for the state waiting this long to

recognize - or at least to publicly admit - that training workshops and

meetings should never supersede the core functions of government.

13114282
The Baker City Herald
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