Official aims to revise policies on travel, meals
by Marcus E. Howard
October 21, 2012 03:02 AM | 2571 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CANTON — Canton City Councilman Hooky Huffman is looking to change the city’s business travel policy in order to increase officials’ meal allowances, among other revisions.

Huffman is proposing a $4 increase in total daily meal expenditures from $38 to $42 as an update to the policy.

City officials and traveling employees are authorized $38 per day for meal expenditures incurred while conducting city business. It includes $7 for breakfast, $11 for lunch and $20 for dinner. Tips are included.

The split between meals is discretionary if the employee is eligible for reimbursement for all three meals and doesn’t exceed $38.

“Under today’s environment, I think the figure of $42 is a little bit more realistic than $38,” he said at Thursday night’s council meeting.

Regarding third party meal expenditures, the policy states: “meetings with constituents that involve a meal that is paid by the constituent or by the city should be avoided because it implies an obligation for such a meal provided.”

Taken literally, the policy would prohibit a city official from taking a next door neighbor, or vice versa, to breakfast. That doesn’t sit well with Huffman.

“If it’s offered, we can also say no,” Huffman said of a meal invitation. “But it sometimes gets rather embarrassing just for the constituent not be able to do so.”

A third area of the policy that Huffman has proposed changing concerns when local meal expenses can be incurred.

The current policy specifies that conducting city business locally over meals should be avoided if a meeting could be scheduled before or after mealtime. And if there is no third party present other than fellow city officials or employees, then such meals do not quality as reimbursable expenses, the policy states.

“Some of the best business has been conducted at meals,” Huffman said.

“Right now, due to the policy, it makes people go different ways and not have their meetings. I think that we lose the benefit of that extra hour or hour-and-a-half maybe of conducting business.”

However, Councilman Glen Cummins said he was against removing the item.

“My opinion is we as individuals can schedule our events so that we don’t require a meal to be incurred at taxpayers expense in the city of Canton,” he said. “I just don’t think taxpayers should pay for local meals for any of us.”

Councilman Bob Rush agreed with Cummins.

“If there’s only council people and managers present, I think we can all pay for our own meals if we’re discussing any kind of city business,” Rush said.

Mayor Gene Robinson Hobgood also expressed reservations about changing the policy. He said that while most people would do the right thing, changing the policy could lay the foundation for future misuses.

“There’s potential there for abuse between council members, city managers, department heads or staff members,” he said.

“I don’t think most of our staff, senior staff particularly, are so busy that they couldn’t schedule that meeting at 11 o’ clock or 1 o’clock and avoid taxpayers having to pay that meal ticket at that point.”

Huffman, however, stuck to his position that meeting over a meal is often productive and time efficient.

“We’re all busy people and there’s so many hours in the day,” he said.

“Particularly the mayor, city manager and all of the department heads, are very, very busy people. Sometimes the best time to get them is at lunch. Otherwise, you’re taking them away from their duties that might be more important.”

The council agreed to continue discussing the proposed changes at the next work session meeting on Nov. 1 and vote on Nov. 15.

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