Political out-of-town junkets are often the target of pork barrel spending critics and voters. But an analysis of records shows that, at least in Knoxville and Knox County, elected officials are conscientious about reducing taxpayer burdens for their trips.
The Knoxville News Sentinel examined travel records for Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero and several Knox County officials in fiscal years 2012 and 2013. The research found Rogero had traveled out of town on business 22 times, but only 13 of those trips were paid for with public money. Total costs to taxpayers came out to less than $15,000.
Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and county commissioners travel less frequently, and are also apt to trim expenses while on the road, the News Sentinel reported. In 2012 and 2013, Burchett spent only $1,100 of public money on trips, typically to meetings in Nashville. County Commissioners Brad Anders, Amy Broyles, Mike Hammond, Sam McKenzie and Jeff Ownby spent a combined $13,576 on trips during the same period. Knox County School superintendent Jim McIntrye spent less than $6,000 on 11 trips. Members of the school board, who required to attend occasional training sessions, spent about $27,000 on travel in the same period.
Public officials who spoke to the News Sentinel said business trips are helpful and necessary to their jobs. Most travel takes them to meetings with other officials and governmental conferences.
"Even though you’re using taxpayer funds to attend out-of-town meetings, it’s beneficial to a council person or a mayor or public servant," former Knoxville Mayor Daniel Brown said. "It’s not to play golf or have fun, it’s to help your role as a public servant.”
Not everyone agrees. Knoxville City Councilman Nick Pavlis has been critical of such travel, and last year Knox County Commissioner Larry Smith publicly questioned why fellow commissioner Amy Broyles attended a women's issues conference in Nashville.