Business or pleasure? That's the question when it comes to a national convention set for next month in Hawaii for elected officials. At least five Chatham County commissioners are scheduled to make the trip and taxpayers may be picking up the tab.
We spoke with commission chairman Pete Liakakis today. He says, despite what people may think, this convention is not a vacation, but rather a meeting of the minds that will help improve the quality of life for all the citizens of Chatham County.
Wouldn't you like to spend five days in beautiful Honolulu? The beautiful sunsets, palms trees, and the breathtaking sights. Some would call it a paradise, but next month it is also the location for the annual National Association of Counties (NACO) conference.
"It's important to have these meetings, because you can speak to other representatives," said Liakakis.
The NACO seminar covers a range of topics from the environment to crime to energy. It even offers classes in everything healthcare to legal issues Sounds important, but for five commissioners to go will cost a little less than $10,000 and that's not including meals and registration.
But Liakakis says this trip is not about frolicking in the sand and surf. "Unfortunately, what a lot of people are thinking is they're going on vacation instead of going there to help the citizens," he said.
With the Chatham County hiring freeze still in effect, a $5 million budget shortfall and the district attorney's office still in desperate need of a third prosecutor to help with the workload, a business trip to Hawaii seems to fly in the face of all the belt tightening.
Savannah-Chatham police chief Dan Flynn says he's got a few items on his wish list, too. "Looking for a funding source for Tasers, mobile data terminals have gotten a lot of attention, in-car cameras."
Some may call this trip a bit lavish, but Liakakis says the only reason this year's convention is getting controversy is because of the location. "A lot of people are saying, 'Why Hawaii?'" said Liakakis.
In the past, these conventions have been held in Miami, New York, even Seattle. Hawaii just happened to be the location this year.