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2 lame ducks to take free trip

With two outgoing commissioners attending, the county could end up paying the way for as many as seven at a three-day conference in Tallahassee.


© St. Petersburg Times, published October 27, 2000

BROOKSVILLE -- Lame duck County Commissioners Pat Novy and Bobbi Mills will have one week remaining in office when the Florida Association of Counties 2001 Legislative Conference convenes in Tallahassee on Nov. 14.

But it is their duty and right, they say, to attend the three-day conference, which is intended to educate commissioners on statewide issues. And taxpayers will pay several hundred dollars each for them to do so.

"I'm getting paid to work, and I'm going to work right up to the bloody end," Mills said.

"I'm an elected official, and I'm still being paid to do my job," Novy said.

The county's third outgoing commissioner, however, chose to stay home.

"To me, it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars," said Chairman Paul Sullivan, who, along with Novy, lost in an October runoff election; Mills was defeated in the September primary. The terms for all three will officially end Nov. 21, four days after the conference.

With Mills and Novy attending, the county could pay the way for as many as seven commissioners, depending on whether the incoming commissioners choose to attend. The county will assume the cost of each commissioner's meals, their $180 registration fee, more than $100 in gas money for the trip to Tallahassee and $246 for a three-night stay at the Doubletree Hotel. (Novy will stay at a separate, less expensive motel.)

The conference schedule includes seminars on growth management, public safety, health and human services and workshops for incoming elected officials.

The point of the conference, Sullivan said, is to give commissioners, especially new ones, information on statewide issues that they can take back to their constituents.

"I don't understand how it is advantageous for taxpayers and residents of this county to pay for two outgoing commissioners to go to a conference designed for incoming commissioners," Sullivan said.

He also noted that there would be several receptions with free food and cocktails.

"Of course there are," he said.

Not listed on the schedule, are parties thrown by special interests.

At a 1993 association gathering, an investment firm seeking to handle $45-million in county money bought three commissioners dinners at the Silver Slipper, a famous Tallahassee steak house. (Novy declined the invitation.)

Last year, at an association meeting in Orlando, Waste Management Inc., which was recently awarded a solid waste collection contract with the county, threw a party featuring an array of deserts called Death by Chocolate.

But the conference is supposed to be about education, said Paula Roberts, a legislative assistant with the association. And even if the outgoing commissioners don't stray from the workshops and seminars, it's hard to see how their attendance will help their constituents.

"I'm not sure how commissioners who will only be in office a few more days would benefit," she said.

Mills, though, said that the conference also allowed commissioners to lobby the association on potential legislation that concerns their counties. Experienced commissioners can do this better than new ones because they are more familiar with the issues.

"I don't mean to turn the table, but why are the new commissioners going, when they aren't even commissioners yet?" she said. "They are not even employed by the county."

Novy said that, besides lobbying, she will gather information to use as she works on issues as a private citizen.

"The power lies within the people and within the grass-roots movement of the people," she said. "Whether you're a commissioner or not, it doesn't mean you have to be in the dark about these issues."

So, should she attend the conference as a private citizen, which the association allows?

"No, because I'm still a county commissioner."

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