There will be no posting for July and August. Have a Happy and Safe Summer!!!
IN MY OPINION –
So, are you asking yourself what is this amount for? Well…… Twelve Thousand Four Hundred Forty-six dollars and fifteen cents ($12,446.15) is the amount of taxpayer funds spent for the 2018 Annual Board of Commissioners Planning Conference which was held on February 22nd thru the 25th. On February 23rd thru the 25th our city officials took a beach trip to Ocean Isle Beach, North Carolina and paid for in full by the citizens of Matthews. Splash Kingdom is the beach house of choice and is a 5,000 square foot ocean front home. In attendance was Mayor Paul Bailey, Mayor Pro Tem John Higdon, Commissioners Jeff Miller, Chris Melton, John Urban, Kress Query, Barbara Dement, Town Manager Hazen Blodgett, Asst. Town Manager Becky Hawke, Town Clerk Lori Canapinno and Town Attorney Charles Buckley.
The breakdown of town funds used is as follows, $3,918.00 for beach house rental for two nights – $89.00 for towel service – $1,599.71 dining (22nd-25th) – $263.35 – grocery & supplies and $631.09 for travel expenses. It is not entirely necessary for our Town Attorney Charles Buckley to attend the planning conference and knowing that a billing for services rendered would have to be submitted, I requested a copy of his billing statement. I was surprised to learn that our Town Clerk was unable to provide total hours and amount charged by Mr. Buckley due to the billing requirements by the Town of Matthews. Apparently and according to Town Manager Hazen Blodgett, Mr. Buckley is not required by the Town to submit an itemized billing which would show an accurate account of services rendered and our Town Manager is okay with this. When the Town receives a billing statement, Mr. Blodgett (Town Manager) reviews and approves the billing. With Mr. Buckley currently receiving $205.00 per hour, which was increased last year from $165.00 per hour, I wanted to know exactly the amount of hours being charged to the Town. Municipalities are required to keep accurate records and as citizens we have the right to know where and how our tax dollars are being spent. After a public records request Mr. Buckley responded on March 26, 2018 “My time billed the town on Friday February 23 was 10.5 hours; on Saturday February 24 was 10 hours and on Sunday February 26 was 8 hours. I did not bill the Town for the time between my home and Town Hall on Thursday morning, and the time between Town Hall and my home on Sunday evening. Also I did not bill the Town when we recessed for the evening meals Friday and Saturday evenings but it does include the time both nights when the Board resumed its discussions after dinner. So my total time billing for the Planning Conference was 28.5 hours.” Mr. Buckley was then asked by Town Manager Hazen Blodgett “On 2/22/18 you show “Preparation for the planning conference,” how much time did you spend on the 22nd? from which Mr. Buckley responded “On the 22nd I billed .5 for preparation for the planning conference. I didn’t have my notebook yet so I spent that time looking through the electronic version to better understand the agenda and all the attachments. So I guess my total planning conference billing was 29 hours.” Really!? I guess? I’m sorry, but what’s wrong with this picture? This is one of many issues we have in the Town of Matthews. No transparency, no accountability, just the good ol’ boys club attitude. Mr. Buckley receives payment through town funds (aka tax dollars) and with no questions asked his billing statements are paid. When the Town of Matthews receives billings from other law firms a itemized billing is required, so why would Mr. Buckley not be held to the same standard? Twenty-nine hours @ $205.00 per hour comes to a whopping $5,945.00 paid to Town Attorney Charles Buckley who is guessing his hours for the planning conference and by-the-way all beach expenses were paid for as well.
In a December 22, 2017 article from the MMHW it’s states “Commissioner Kress Query believes holding planning conferences out of town with minimal staff increases productivity. Holding it in town could make it harder for commissioners to stay focused.” Wait a minute, hold the phone, let me get this straight. If the planning conference is held at the Town Hall or a local banquet room our commissioners would not be able to “stay focused.” Oh, I get it, they need the sun, sand and ocean to help them stay focused. Yes, I’m being facetious. Why is it commissioners from surrounding municipalities can keep their planning conferences local and yet stay focused? Mr. Query recalls a retreat in Chapel Hill in which no one showed up saying, “Staying at a beach house makes it easier to round people up”. Spoken like a true politician, another way to make it sound as if they are looking out for our best interest. Last time I checked, Ocean Isle Beach is 191 miles while Chapel Hill is 148, isn’t 191 miles further than 148? He also stated “It’s the same thing you hear from a small group of people each time about you going out of town to play. Most of them, when you explain to them what we accomplished, I never had one come back and think that was that hard a thing.” Well first of all, I’m willing to bet he did not disclose the cost of the planning conference when he gives his speech of “what we accomplished” and according to the stories I have been told by past commissioners they all include drinking establishments. Second, anyone who attends would be responsible for their hotel, food and travel expenses when Commissioner Kress Query has the luxury of the citizens of Matthews covering his bill. Third, this is a public meeting and critics would argue with that kind of money being spent the citizens of Matthews would be better served if the planning conference was held here in town and saving these funds. As the saying goes, a penny saved is a penny earned.
If all receipts, invoices, billing statements have been provided for as requested and required by law, this brings the 2018 Planning Conference total to $12,446.15. Commissioners have criticized citizens for speaking against the misuse of tax dollars for the planning conference, I’m willing to bet I have been included in their rant. As taxpayer’s and citizens we are not required to attend the planning conference and we do have the right to hold this Town Board accountable when our tax dollars are misused for their self-indulgent trip to the beach they like to label the Planning Conference.
THANK YOU AND PLEASE REMEMBER TO SUPPORT MATTHEWS WATCH BY TELLING YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS. HAVE A SAFE SUMMER. Gina Hoover