Thursday, April 7, 2011
We are sending Ross Township Commissioners on a weekend getaway to the ALOM Spring Conference!
Weekend getaways are really nice…especially when someone else is paying for it! Four of our Ross Township Commissioners are getting a weekend away using our tax dollars this weekend starting on April 7th! They will be attending the Allegheny League of Municipalities Spring Conference at Seven Springs. ALOM is a “voluntary, umbrella organization of boroughs, townships, cities, home rule municipalities, municipal authorities and the County of Allegheny” and its purpose is to assist “local elected and appointed officials in the areas of communication, cooperation, and coordination on mutual matters of area-wide concern.” You can find more information on this organization at their web site: http://www.county.allegheny.pa.us/alom/. ALOM typically holds “conferences” twice a year at Seven Springs Resort, one in the spring and one in the fall. During these conferences, ALOM presents educational seminars and opportunities for networking.
Commissioners Grace Stanko, Pete Ferraro, David Mikec, and Chris Eyster will be attending this year’s Spring Conference. They are also taking their spouses along, or in Eyster’s case, a “guest”. It will cost the taxpayers of Ross Township approximately $2,553.00, plus mileage, to send Commissioners Stanko, Ferraro, Mikec and Eyster (plus spouses or guests) to the Conference. Included in that are three nights of lodging (except for Commissioner Ferraro who will only be staying for 2), admission to the conference, and meals for themselves and their spouse (or “guest”). That’s $790.00 for a
n weekend getaway networking and educational opportunity that can be used to promote Ross Township to other local elected officials in Allegheny County? It must be a really important event since we need to send 44% of our elected Commissioners to attend. I wonder what four Commissioners can accomplish at this event that one or two can’t?!??!
I’ve spent the past several days looking for additional information about ALOM’s Spring Conference and there really isn’t much out there. A Google search revealed many links to other municipalities’ agendas and meeting minutes in which a vote was taken to send members. There was an article about Mayor Luke Ravenstahl being appointed as the Chairman of the ALOM and not even bothering to show up for the conference. There was also an article about a local municipality scaling back on the number of representatives that it sends to the conference in order to cut costs: http://www.yourfoxchapel.com/herald/article/hard-times-cause-some-cut-out-conference.
I had hoped to find a link to a listing of the seminars that would be offered in order to find out what educational and/or networking opportunities are attracting so many Ross Township Commissioners to this event. I have yet to find that list or any information of what happens at either the Spring or Fall ALOM Conference. Perhaps the organizers of this event and those involved with it do not want the taxpayer to know what happens during this “conference”?
Since there is very little information available as to what this is, let’s go with what I have been told or what I know. The ALOM conferences are just an expensive road trip on the tax payer’s dime. It is set up so the Commissioners can go to Seven Springs in order to eat and drink (alcoholic beverages!) at taxpayer expense for an entire weekend. During the day, there are supposed seminars for the conference attendees. At night time, it turns into a big party atmosphere where the vendors and others have hospitality suites. Our township representatives wander from suite to suite, where they are gifted with things and are able to get their drink on. In many cases, these vendors put on a pretty nice show in order to “earn” business. Then you add alcohol into the mix and you really loosen things up. Think sleazy politics at its finest and throw in some good old “I’ll grease your hand if you grease mine”. I bet you that it is a really good time and that good time is being had at our expense.
If this truly was being used as an educational and networking opportunity, then that is great, but it isn’t. I don’t believe that anything that happens at this conference is done with the best interests of Ross Township in mind. I went back through all of the 2010 minutes in order to double check things. There is not ONE mention of the ALOM Conference or any of the valuable connections, contacts, or resources in the minutes. In fact, I didn’t even see one case where there was a discussion or a vote held in order to send the Commissioners to the Conference. I saw a few other references of sending other staff members and employees to various conferences and training sessions. I even saw a discussion and a vote in order to send Commissioner Demarco to the PERLAS conference. That led to a very interesting article where Commissioner Demarco admitted that certain guidelines were not followed when approving Commissioners to attend the ALOM Conference: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10042/1034873-54.stm. I also went through all of the 2011 minutes that were available online and there was no mention of the ALOM Conference in any of those either. Again, no public discussion and no public vote were listed in the minutes for something that is a very public use of tax payer money! (*Just a little notice that the minutes for 2011 only run through February, so it is possible that the discussion was held in March, although that would be very short notice since the Conference is the beginning of April). So no public discussion or vote on attending the Conference while using tax payer money to pay for lodging, seminars, mileage, and food plus the party atmosphere and alcohol. In addition, no public discussion on the results of this supposed conference as in what contacts were made, what resources were utilized, or what possible problems it could help with. Sounds like more back room dealing to me!
ALOM is supposed to be an organization for local communities yet they are holding the conference outside of the local area. I question why an organization that is associated with Allegheny County has to utilize a location outside of Allegheny County and outside of our region for their conference? Why are they taking their business outside of Allegheny County? Why not stay here and help the local businesses in this area? I did read in one article that it is such a large group that Seven Springs is the only place big enough to house all the conference attendees (and vendors pushing their product/service) in the area. It is so large that all of the hotel and most of the condos sell out, according to their Director of Communications. Funny thing though….I was just on the Seven Springs web site and found plenty of openings for lodging this weekend. Plus attendance has dwindled so much in the last several years that a closer and much more cost effective option must exist. Wonder why the David L. Lawrence Convention Center isn’t big enough to hold everyone involved? If they had the Conference there, they wouldn’t need hotel rooms to hold most of the attendees since the Allegheny League of Municipalities members are communities IN Allegheny County. But if they did that, then where would they hold the nightly parties.
Let’s face it…our tax dollars are paying for our Commissioners to go to Seven Springs and have a good time this weekend. We are paying for a nice room in a resort, good food to eat at fancy dinners, and a huge party at night with lots to drink. That’s it. We don’t get to have the fun, we don’t get the free “thanks for doing business” gifts (that was quite a nice chair that they got last year), and we don’t get the experience. But we pay for it. Ross Township apparently doesn’t get anything for this either since there is nothing in the minutes of 2010 that connects the conference with anything. Not even a comment such as: “Hey, we attended this, we did this, and this is what we got from it.” Nothing…..but our tax dollars pay for it.
Also, why do nearly half of our Commissioners need to go to this? Will the other half attend the Fall Conference in order to get their weekend getaway that they apparently feel entitled to? I find it strange that this event is important enough to require the attendance of so many Commissioners yet doesn’t warrant a mention or write up in the minutes!!! Does anyone else find this outrageous????
If you have attended the ALOM Conference and would like to share your personal experience, please leave a comment and tell us your story. You can do it anonymously and no one will be any wiser. In fact, if you are attending this weekend, give us a live update or come back and tell us how it went. We would love to hear the stories and live vicariously through someone attending it…..especially since we are paying for our Commissioners to enjoy it!