County reimbursed former York County Councilman Blake $29,000 for expenses

adouglas@heraldonline.comNovember 3, 2012 

York County Council candidate Roy Blake was reimbursed about $29,000 for travel, training and other expenses during his previous six years on the council, according to records provided by county officials.

Blake, who lost his District 4 seat in the 2010 Democratic primary, is a petition candidate challenging Democratic incumbent Bump Roddey in Tuesday’s election. Roddey defeated Blake in the Democratic primary two years ago.

County records show Blake was reimbursed $6,547 in fuel expenses for traveling to county council meetings and other government activities.

Blake also was reimbursed $22,506 to attend conferences, including the American Leadership Forum, which requires a $6,000 registration fee for each participant.

None of the seven current county council members have requested reimbursement for gas. But Roddey, Chad Williams and Eric Winstead have been reimbursed for other expenses.

Roddey has spent $223.04 from the council’s training and travel budget since 2011. The money reimbursed him for mileage to travel to Columbia to attend York County Day, when local officials and others met with the county’s legislators. It also paid for the cost of printing and mailing 500 post cards to residents affected by county road work projects.

Williams faces no opposition next Tuesday, and Winstead is not seeking re-election.

Blake said he asked for reimbursement for driving to local meetings because he was spending a lot of time and gas to carry out county business.

“I was at meetings all the time,” he said. “I like to be involved because you get something out of every meeting.”

He said perhaps there aren’t as many meetings taking place now as compared to when he served on the council and that’s one reason no current councilman has asked for mileage reimbursement.

“And some people are more well off than others,” Blake added.

The cost of attending conferences in Washington, D.C., and around the state was money “well spent,” Blake said.

“To better serve the public and York County, I think training is very important,” Blake said.

One trip to Washington, D.C., was essential, he said, to successfully lobby South Carolina’s U.S. senators to help pay for county road projects with federal dollars.

Former County Council Chairman Buddy Motz said he went with Blake to Washington, D.C., and said the trip was “very beneficial” and “not a waste of taxpayer money.”

He also attended the American Leadership Forum with Blake, he said, and the county council approved the spending for each of them. Motz’s $6,000 registration does not appear on records provided by county officials, but Motz said he did not pay for the forum out of his own pocket.

It is unclear why his registration is not included on financial documents provided by the county to The Herald.

Blake said “times are different” and council members seem to not attend as many conferences as he did as a council member. If he wins the District 4 seat this week, he said, he would give “grave consideration” before spending county money given tough economic times.

“If you want your councilman to be as effective as possible, I think it’s good they go get additional training,” he said.

“The more astute--the better servant you can be to your county.”

Roddey said the council members’ salaries cover other costs associated with being on council and he thinks Blake abused the policy by spending the council’s budget on gas costs to attend meetings.

Roddey said he would not be in favor of changing the policy that allows for mileage reimbursements.

“It’s not that the policy is bad,” he said. “It’s the user.”

Council members receive a $16,011 salary, which will increase to $16,251 in January. The council chairperson receives a $18,385 salary, set to increase to $18,661 next year.

The council’s budget for training and travel dropped between mid-year 2009 and mid-year 2011 during lean economic times. In mid-2011, the council increased the budget to $25,700. The current fiscal year’s budget for council travel is $29,000.

That money is used to reimburse council members for gas if they keep track of the miles they drive on county business.

The money also covers, among other things, travel expenses and registration costs to attend legislative conferences and printing and postage costs to notify residents of upcoming work in their neighborhoods. The budget also includes travel and training expenses for the Clerk to Council.

Winstead, who represents District 3 in western York County, has spent $2,848.94 since joining the council in 2010. That money was spent in 2011 for Winstead to attend a National Association of Counties conference.

Williams, councilman for District 7 in Rock Hill who is unopposed Tuesday, has spent $6,287.48 during his time on council since 2009. Williams’ spending includes the cost of attending several in-state conferences and meetings through SCAC.

Joe Cox, a former councilman who is unopposed in next week’s election in District 3, was reimbursed $1,228.13 during his four years on council between 2007 and 2010.

The current chairman, Britt Blackwell, is one of four current council members who have not been reimbursed for travel or other expenses since 2005. Blackwell is serving his first two-year term.

The other three are Curwood Chappell, David Bowman and Bruce Henderson. Blackwell, a Republican, is being challenged Tuesday by petition candidate Gary Williams for the District 6 seat.

Henderson, a Republican, is being challenged by petition candidate John Rinehart on Tuesday for the District 2 seat in the Lake Wylie-Clover area.

Blackwell said if he were asked to attend a conference a long-distance away he might consider using the council’s travel budget to pay for the trip. He called the yearly salary he receives “more than fair,” and said, “I don’t want to take any more of the taxpayers’ money.”

Blackwell said in October he attended a SCAC committee meeting in Columbia but paid for travel expenses himself.

“I don’t believe in getting that reimbursement,” he said.

Anna Douglas •  803-329-4068

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