One word is sure to set off discussion these days around the Chatham County Commission: Hawaii. There are new developments in the controversy surrounding five commissioners and a $20,000 trip to a conference there.
They are down to three commissioners making the flight next month. Two have decided to stay home after the Hawaii conference backlash.
Helen Stone is bailing out after 30 calls and emails about the planned trip. "The majority asked me not to go, and I listened," she said.
Stone cancelled her plans. "If that's what they want me to do, that's what I'll do."
"I've made plans many months ago to go to this conference," said Pat Farrell. "I haven't changed my plans at this point."
Farrell is going without Stone. The two freshman county commissioners were part of a five-commissioner group headed to Hawaii. When WTOC broke the story last week, constituents sounded off.
Commissioner Harris O'Dell, citing health reasons, dropped out. Now only three commissioners are headed for Honolulu. That shaves $6,000 off what will now be a $12,000 taxpayer funded, all accommodations provided, trip to Hawaii.
"Any time you spend taxpayer money, it's a big deal," said Farrell. "Whether it's one dollar, a million dollars, or 100 million dollars."
But Farrell--and Stone--defend the benefits of these commissioners conferences. Farrell says one issue he will be focused on is how to handle state representatives and underfunded state mandates.
"It would be my intention to bring back information to better Chatham County," he said.
"All the confusion about this is about the location," said Stone. "I attended another NACO meeting in Washington, DC, in March and nothing was said about it."
There remains the question of reimbursement for the canceled trips. Stone says as of right now, the county will be reimbursed for hotel rooms but other accommodations, like the airline flights, are still being looked into.