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Humphrey's use of school board cash demonstrates a lack of good judgement

August 30, 1998

Tim RowlandAccountability is what oils democratic engines. Without it, informed choices by the electorate are impossible.

That's why elected officials' voting records are public, transcripts of their meetings are open to inspection and the expenses they write off to the taxpayer are carefully itemized.

Where officials eat, sleep and travel while conducting public business is a matter of record for the simple reason that the money they're spending is ours.

That's reason enough, although these expense account records are additionally helpful as a gauge of an official's responsibility in the arena of public spending. In truth, this reflection on an office-holder's nature is arguably more important then the dollars involved, which are usually fairly few.

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Yet officials tend to forget this just about the time their right hand is waived skyward for the oath.

School board member and County Commissioners candidate Andrew Humphreys, for one, is outraged (his word) that the public would dare question the travel expenses he's wracked up on the public's dime.

Here are the facts. The five-member school board initially had an expense budget of $8,000. But Humphreys spent $5,000 all by himself, and the board's expense line-item had to be ratcheted up to reflect the his excesses.

In addition, Humphreys signed out a gassed-up, school-system car 49 days from Jan. 9 to May 29. Humphreys says used the car only for school-related functions, although he can't name them all.

Humphreys even tried to get the taxpayers to pick up the cost of a parking ticket he received at BWI while he was off attending an education conference in New Orleans.

In his defense, Humphreys says he's spending this money with the best interest of your kids in mind. The more he jets off to conferences across the country the more he learns about education and the better equipped he is to deal with school issues.

And he says he promised to stay in touch with the people during his campaign for board, hence his frequent use of the company car.

Humphreys has yet to comment on how a parking ticket furthers your child's learning.

I know from personal experience that Andrew Humphreys does indeed travel extensively among the people of the county, something that's hard to criticize. Listening to the people you represent is one of the most important things an office holder can do.

Likewise, it is admirable that a person would want to attend conferences that would mold one into a more enlightened decision-maker. After all, the board is in the position of championing education, be it primary or continuing.

But there's an uncomfortable pattern here.

First, let's give Humphreys the benefit of the doubt and assume he actually used the car for official school business one day out of every three. (It is up to the voter to decide whether this benefit requires too much of a reach).

When you're riding on the taxpayers' chariot, a person of reason would prioritize the business and attend only that of utmost importance. A County Commissioners' budget hearing yes, a ribbon cutting, no. If some of the "school business" was so mundane that Humphreys himself can't even recall what it was, I think it's safe to say the wall of good judgment has been breached.

It's useful to apply this reasonable-person standard to the conferences as well. Again we will give Humphreys the benefit of the doubt and assume he knew how much money was in the board's budget. (No one, I would hope, would just go off spending public money without asking how much there was to spend.)

So certainly a reasonable person would have divided $8,000 by five and shut down the frequent flier miles when he had used up his share. But Humphreys went right through the stop sign.

His excuse on local travel is that he didn't have his own car. Will he justify the conferences by explaining that he doesn't have his own jet?

Again, the dollars aren't that important. What is important is that Andrew Humphreys has proven himself to be irresponsible with public money. This may not be a crime, or unethical, or a violation of board policy, but neither is it a very desirable attribute in a person charged with managing millions of dollars not his own.

Humphreys wants us to overlook his unsound financial judgment and promote him to the Board of County Commissioners, where even more opportunities are ripe for the picking (see the 1997 Masters Tournament).

I do not question Humphrey's heart, but I do question his common sense when it comes to matters of managing tax money.

Without evidence that he is sorry or willing to change his ways, and to date none has been forthcoming, Democrats would do well to look elsewhere for candidates to send into the County Commissioners' general election.

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