Tone Down Junkets, Aides Told

O'malley's Chief Of Staff Calls For Cutting Costs Of Trip To Counties' Meeting In Ocean City

July 30, 2009|By Laura Smitherman | Laura Smitherman,laura.smitherman@baltsun.com

In these austere fiscal times, Gov. Martin O'Malley's chief of staff has a message for Cabinet members and senior staffers: no lavish junkets to Ocean City this year.

Many state officials are planning their annual pilgrimage to Maryland's top beach destination for the annual government conference hosted by the Maryland Association of Counties in mid-August. The conference is a well-attended, laid-back affair with policy discussions during the day and outings to political receptions and music-blaring clubs like Seacrets at night.

This year, Michael R. Enright, O'Malley's chief of staff, asked officials and staffers to consider the state's budget shortfalls when planning their trips. O'Malley is in the midst of carving $700 million from the budget by Labor Day; the Board of Public Works approved $280 million of those spending cuts last week.

"This year's conference takes place as state and local leaders are making difficult budget decisions to navigate the economic downturn," Enright wrote in a memo this week. "As you and your staff plan for the conference, be mindful of the expense associated with travel and lodging."

Enright said only "essential staff" should go and encouraged sharing rides and hotel rooms. He also reminded state employees to use comp time or personal leave for the "considerable" down time between conference sessions and receptions.

About a dozen staffers from the governor's office usually attend. Full registration for all meetings and a crab feast costs state employees $380 to $500, depending on how early they register. For other meals, they would be reimbursed $8 for breakfast, $10 for lunch and $24 for dinner. Entering to play in the golf tournament costs as much as $90, though that would not be reimbursed, an O'Malley spokesman said.

Michael Sanderson, MACo's executive director, said a drop-off in attendance might be unavoidable given the economic downturn, but he doesn't expect a "dramatic contraction of the event," which typically draws more than 2,000 people. That's because the program is tailored to economic reality, he said.

"We'll be talking about providing services in tough times," Sanderson said. "We've had a fair number of people say, 'Is this worth doing?' But after looking at the agenda, they say, 'This is exactly what we should be doing.' "

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