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Taxpayer-funded caravan to Hawaii

Wednesday, June 22, 2005
Daily Herald

Ah, the lure of Hawaii.
The luaus, the luxury hotels, the lovely beaches.

What’s a little sunburn, when you have all this.

Even if the taxpayers are getting burned.

At least they are in Cook County.

We don’t begrudge the county being represented at the National Association of Counties Conference in Hawaii next month. We understand that the county, as the host of next year’s conference, is required to go to this one that just happens to be in a popular vacation destination. And many relevant issues will be discussed.

But the county really doesn’t need to have nearly two dozen elected officials and staff being draped with leis when they step off the plane in Honolulu in order to meet this meeting obligation and cover the conference. Yet a group of 22-23 will be heading to Hawaii.

There’s clearly no excuse for such excess. Honolulu County met its mandatory attendance requirement, at least year’s NACo conference in Phoenix, with seven people. And neither are neighboring counties  sending a caravan to Hawaii. Lake County and McHenry County will be sending seven board members and staff combined, with the cost of McHenry’s lone representative being split between both counties.

DuPage County usually sends nine board members to the conference for counties. But this year, county board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom is to be accompanied by three board members. And all of them are required to pay their own air fare to Hawaii.

It’s clear that DuPage, Lake and McHenry counties anticipated how taxpayers might react to paying for a junket to a tropical paradise. They budgeted it with the hope of softening the backlash.

There will no backlash in Kane County, as it is  sending no one to Hawaii, viewing the convention as an unnecessary expenditure of tax dollars.

But there are those in  Cook County outside of the commissioners who have declined to go on principle, and commissioners Carl Hansen and Joan Murphy, who will go but will pay for their own air fare and hotel — who wonder why anyone would get so upset about sending 22-23 people to an important conference that is only going to cost the taxpayers $40,000.

It’s not the money as much as it’s the message conveyed by sending a contingent the size of a baseball team to Hawaii on the taxpayers’ tab. The conference can surely be covered with far fewer people.

Of course, if it is absolutely essential that this many people be at the conference, lest their Cook County constituents lose out on all the new, valuable knowledge that will be brought back home along with the tans, then we expect this Cook County crew will be taking copious notes.

And each of them, at some future board meeting, will present a detailed summary to the public on how what they learned will make programs better and tax bills smaller. Then there wouldn’t be any real cause for complaint, right?

We will eagerly await their reports.

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