Summer's MACo Conference is the biggest travel expense

November 18, 2007|By JOSHUA BOWMAN

Each summer, county government officials from across Maryland head to Ocean City for the Maryland Association of Counties' Summer Conference.

The four-day event offers dozens of seminars designed to educate officials on topics ranging from public safety to financial planning. It is held every year in Ocean City when hotels are charging in-season rates.

For Washington County officials, the conference represents the biggest travel expense of the year.

The county paid $16,669.92 to send 16 people to the 2007 summer conference Aug. 15-18, according to expense records and receipts obtained by The Herald-Mail.

Of those who attended, two were commissioners - John F. Barr and James F. Kercheval. Their share of the expenses was $815, and that included two registration fees and one night in a hotel room for Kercheval.


The other 14 people who attended were staff members, including several department heads.

More than $10,000 of the total cost was spent on hotel rooms, rented for an average $257 per night.

Other county expenses for the conference included $4,160 for registration fees, which cost $260 per person; $1,545.95 in vehicle reimbursements; and $529.20 in meal reimbursements.

MACo Executive Director David S. Bliden cited several reasons for holding the conference at the beach during peak season, including tradition - Ocean City has hosted the event since 1951 - and scheduling.

"For 90 days, the General Assembly is in session, which is followed by budget time for most counties. And we already have the winter conference," Bliden said.

Every county sent representatives to the MACo conference in August, said Bliden, who noted that has been the case most years.

Although MACo reserves blocks of hotel rooms at a discounted rate for its winter conference, it does not do so for the summer conference in Ocean City.

The winter conference, held in Cambridge, Md., is a scaled-down version of the summer conference, spanning two days instead of four and featuring fewer seminars.

While the commissioners agreed that the summer conference is expensive, they said the benefits are worth the cost.

Commissioner Kristin B. Aleshire, a former Hagerstown City Council member, said he thinks the county should have "some level of representation every year" at the conference, but said new elected officials benefit most from the MACo and Maryland Municipal League gatherings.

"A lot of important meetings come out of the networking that happens at MACo," Commissioner William J. Wivell said.

Commissioner James F. Kercheval said the conference's many seminars are particularly useful for new commissioners.

"There is no school that you can go to to be an elected official," Kercheval said. "MACo for me has been that education."

The Herald-Mail Articles