WOODMERE — Council members questioned the value of attending conferences and various types of training sessions as travel proposals are trickling in. Benefits Coordinator Eric Hammond is requesting to attend the Ohio State Auditor’s Office training in Columbus from April 7-9 at a cost of about $800, which led to a larger discussion on travel expenses at the Finance Committee meeting on Feb. 3.

“My concern is money in this village,” said Councilwoman Lisa Brockwell, who also serves as chairwoman of the Finance Committee. “We have to be very diligent with the money going in and out right now with the travel.”

Ms. Brockwell said that the conference is for municipal treasurers and the village does not have a treasurer right now. Former Treasurer Rhonda Hall resigned in January after five months on the job. Ms. Brockwell asked if Assistant Treasurer Pat Dawson would be better suited for this training.

According to Mr. Hammond, he assists Ms. Dawson with payroll, pay policy and taxation. He said that it is important to understand what the state auditor expects of local governments. Councilman Charles Smith, who served as mayor of Woodmere from 2010-2017, reflected on his time in the administration. He said that he was “finicky” about costly opportunities to train his employees, and he wanted to see an agenda for the conference.

“We’re short-handed in that department so I think any type of knowledge we can get from outside sources is imperative,” he said.

In 2017, when Mr. Smith was mayor, the administration’s travel expenses totaled $5,305, according to financial records. In 2018, Mayor Ben Holbert’s first year in office, the administration’s travel expenses were $12,931. The administration’s travel expenses in 2019 were $9,703, according to financial reports.

Common transactions on the expenditure reports are meals, car rentals, mileage, hotel reservations and airline tickets. There are also costs for conferences such as the National League of Cities in Los Angeles, California, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement in New Orleans, Louisiana and the Greater Cleveland Partnership and Delta Days in Our Nation’s Capitol, both held in Washington, D.C., according to Ms. Dawson.

The administration’s travel expenditures are for the mayor, council and the finance department. Its expenditures are measured separately from fire, police, service and the mayor’s court, all of which have their own travel expenses.

Mayor Holbert said that he understands the council’s concern with finances, but a bigger problem could arise if village employees are not properly trained. Without important knowledge to complete tasks regarding payroll, taxes and pensions, the village could find itself in trouble, he said.

“I totally get the situation as far as our finances,” he said. “But one of the things I am a little bit concerned about is if someone needs training and if they don’t get it. You have to look at what the real cost is.”

Councilwoman Glenda Todd-Miller, who is on the committee, said that she is not opposed to the training. Since there is no treasurer for the village at this point, she said that it would be beneficial to have other members of the Finance Department “step up to the plate.” In response to recent and potential expenditures in general, Ms. Todd-Miller said that the village needs to spend its funds wisely and find the biggest bang for their buck.

“We have to be mindful of this money and it’s not ours,” she said. “It belongs to this village.”

Ms. Todd-Miller said that it looked like the conference offered great training, but questioned the food price, $61 per day. Mr. Hammond said that the listed price was a maximum cost and would actually cost much less. He added that he and Ms. Dawson “know that money doesn’t grow on trees.”

Mr. Hammond’s travel request was reviewed at the council meeting on Wednesday.

Julie Hullett has been a reporter for the Chagrin Valley Times since August of 2018 and covers Gates Mills, Hunting Valley, Moreland Hills, Orange, Pepper Pike and Woodmere. She graduated from John Carroll University with a journalism degree in 2018.

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