Commissioner chastises colleagues for Arkansas trip

Published April 26, 2007

TARPON SPRINGS - As prospective budget cuts loom over the city, is it wise to send three city commissioners to the same workshop in Arkansas - even if the very topic is budget crisis?

Not according to Commissioner Peter Dalacos, who led the commission into a protracted discussion of the trip during a Tuesday work session. Dalacos blasted his colleagues, saying the workshop was a mere opportunity, "for those interested in furthering their political careers or taking vacations."

Not so fast, fired back other commissioners.

"If anyone wants to call this a vacation, you need to get your head checked," said Mayor Beverley Billiris, who is attending the Little Rock workshop organized by the National League of Cities with commissioners Robin Saenger and Chris Alahouzos. The session is scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

"We're going to be looking, literally, at the budget crisis we're going to be going through," Billiris said.

The exchange is not uncommon for observers of the Tarpon Springs City Commission. Dalacos and Billiris frequently butt heads. But the debate suggests that upcoming budget negotiations for the city could be contentious.

The state Legislature could, as early as next week, adopt a radical new plan for limiting property tax revenues collected by local governments.

While Dalacos admitted the Little Rock session might be relevant, he said there's no excuse for sending three commissioners, and estimated the cost would reach at least $3,000. At most the commission should have sent one person, he said. And he noted that the commission busted its expense budget last year.

"We need to set a policy on these things," he said.

Commissioners last year planned to spend $9,000 on travel but spent $20,960; they budgeted $8,500 for books, periodicals and registrations but spent $12,000.

But the mayor countered, "we've had new commissioners on the board and so we've needed to spend more on training." She added that commissioners had made their plans for the Arkansas trip some time ago, and couldn't refund registration fees and airfare after a certain point.

While bringing back materials may seem like a possible alternative to sending multiple commissioners, there's no substitute for hands-on training, she said.

"Frankly, I think the board is weary of Mr. Dalacos' negative comments," Billiris said. "I would love for him to attend a workshop - on team building."

Elena Lesley can be reached at elesley@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.