Travel expenses for the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors collectively amounted to more than $24,000 last year, most of which was for a multi-day trip to the California Association of Counties’ annual conference in San Diego.
Public records obtained by The Union Democrat showed the county paid for several supervisors to go on official business trips over the course of the year to Sacramento, Jackson, Kings Canyon National Park, Bishop, Oakhurst, Auburn, Napa, Idaho and Washington, D.C.
“We can’t do our job without making contacts,” District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer, who had the most expenses at more than $4,000. “Making contacts in person are much more powerful than just talking to them on the phone.”
The county spent a total of about $13,600 sending four supervisors and two supervisors-elect to the multi-day CSAC conference in San Diego in late November, including former District 3 Supervisor Evan Royce who was just over a month away from leaving office.
Expenses for the board last year included registration fees for conferences, hotel stays, gasoline, reimbursements for mileage, parking fees and meals.
Rodefer, who serves as board chairman this year, said he believes the amount spent was relatively low because the trips have helped bring millions of dollars to the county in the form of grants and other outside funding for issues like tree mortality.
“It costs money to get money,” Rodefer said. “People who want to look into these things are certainly welcome to do so, but when you put $20,000 up against the millions of dollars we’ve gotten for tree mortality alone, I think that’s worth it.”
The board’s total travel and training expenses were $27,781 in 2016 and $15,856 in 2017, but that doesn’t include reimbursements for gas and mileage or any purchases that weren’t travel related.
Factoring in the mileage reimbursements for 2018 would bring the total to more than $26,000.
The board’s travel expenses from January to October in 2009 were slightly less than $6,000, according to a previously published article in The Union Democrat.
Rodefer’s expenses were almost entirely for hotel stays both in and outside of California, with the exception of an $85 cobalt blue Surface Arc computer mouse that he ordered off of Microsoft’s online store.
He went to Sacramento for overnight trips four times over the course of the year, Sun Valley, Idaho, Washington, D.C., and the CSAC conference in San Diego, all of which required him to stay in hotels for one or more nights.
All of Rodefer’s trips were to attend meetings of government lobbying associations, including CSAC, the Rural County Representatives of California (RCRC), and National Association of Counties (NACo).
“They have meetings in Sacramento, and if you’re not at the meeting, you’re not going to get the money,” Rodefer said.
A three-day trip that Rodefer took in October to Washington, D.C., was for a NACo event where he and about 100 other elected county officials from the western United States were briefed at the White House by officials in the Trump administration about work they were doing in relation to counties.
President Donald Trump also gave a surprise speech about his administration’s accomplishments, which Rodefer previously described to The Union Democrat as “one of those very special life events.”
Rodefer stayed for two nights from Oct. 22 to 24 at the Hyatt Regency Washington on Capitol Hill at a total cost of $733.
The four-day trip Rodefer took to Sun Valley, Idaho, was for NACo’s annual Western Interstate Region Conference. He stayed at the Sun Valley Resort, where the conference was hosted.
Rodefer explained that he purchased the mouse because the county was supposed to provide him with one and told him to order it himself on a county credit card. He said he will give it back when his time as supervisor is done or he no longer has a use for it.
All of Rodefer’s travel expenses were limited to hotel stays and registration fees. He said he doesn’t seek reimbursements for costs like mileage, airplane tickets and meals as a way of giving back to the county.
Supervisors earned a base salary of about $50,500 last year, which will go up to about $52,000 after July. They also receive health and retirement benefits like other county employees.
District 1 Supervisor Sherri Brennan had the second most expenses of the board last year at just under $4,000.
Brennan went on multiple trips for meetings of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy Governing Board as the county’s delegated representative, including to Sacramento, Montecito Lake Resort in Kings Canyon National Park, Oakhurst and Auburn.
Former District 2 Supervisor Randy Hanvelt’s travel expenses in 2018 that were paid by the county totaled less than $1,000, the least of any member of the board.
Most of Hanvelt’s travel spending was on gasoline for county vehicles that he took on day trips to Sacramento to meet with various state agencies and associations like the Governor’s Tree Mortality Task Force, CSAC, and RCRC.
Hanvelt also traveled to Jackson five times for meetings of the Amador-Tuolumne Community Action Agency and Central Sierra Child Support Agency.
Other trips that Hanvelt took throughout the year were paid for by RCRC, including the CSAC conference in San Diego, because he served as the organization’s first vice chairman at the time
Hanvelt’s statement of economic interests for 2017 showed that RCRC paid more than $18,000 in travel-related expenses for him that year. He has yet to file a statement for 2018, according to the county Elections Office.
The county pays $5,500 a year to be a member of RCRC, which lobbies the state and federal governments on behalf of the interests of 35 rural counties in California.
Royce and District 4 Supervisor John Gray each took one trip during the year, which was to the CSAC annual conference from Nov. 27 to 30 in San Diego.
District 2 Supervisor Ryan Campbell and District 3 Supervisor Anaiah Kirk, who were each elected in November and took their seats on Jan. 7, also attended the conference as incoming members of the board.
Rodefer said it’s important for incoming supervisors to attend the conference for the training sessions and workshops, which he attended and found highly useful when he was elected for the first time in 2012.
“It’s a day and a half of indoctrination into how to be a supervisor,” he explained. “I don’t care how well prepared you think you are coming into office, it’s extremely useful.”
Rodefer also said he believed it was necessary for all of the other supervisors to attend because they’re each assigned to a different policy committee that meet at the conference to set their policy agendas for the next year.
“One person can’t cover all of those meetings,” he said. “For us to get total coverage of that conference, which is very exhaustive, I think we do need everybody there just one time a year.”
The cost for the tickets to the conference, which were purchased in August, totaled $5,630.
Each the four sitting supervisors and two incoming supervisors who attended at taxpayer expense had expenses from the conference totaling more than $1,000. They all stayed at the Marriott Marquis San Diego Marina on West Harbor Drive.
Hotel stays, mileage reimbursements, parking, and airfare accounted for almost all of the expenses. Royce and Brennan were the only two who charged any meals to the county.
Meal allowances for each supervisor are $10 for breakfast, $11 for lunch and $21 for dinner, anything over that has to come out their own pockets.
The dinner that Royce charged to his room was $4 over the county limit of $21 for supervisors, which he paid back from other money he was owed. Brennan was reimbursed $21 on a $90 tab at the restaurant in the hotel, as well as for two breakfasts, one lunch and one dinner charged to her room over the course of her two-night stay.
Campbell had the highest amount of expenses from the conference at $1,870, followed by Gray at $1,773, Kirk at $1,713, Brennan at $1,228, Rodefer at $1,078, and Royce at $990.
Gray, Brennan and Kirk drove to the conference and were each reimbursed $494 for 908 miles, while Campbell took a flight to the conference. Rodefer said he also flew and did not seek reimbursement from the county for the cost of traveling to the conference.
Campbell said he had to book a flight through Alaska Airlines at the last minute because he didn’t know if he would win the Nov. 6 election and couldn’t drive there due to an injury to his Achilles tendon just days after the election that required surgery.
“It was definitely worthwhile for me to go, because there were workshops teaching you how to go about setting policy, how to follow the myriad of laws that are in place for elected officials, and how to best use the tools of government to serve your district,” he said, adding that it also provided an opportunity to make connections with supervisors and lawmakers in other areas that the county could potentially collaborate with in the future.
Hanvelt couldn’t be reached for comment about why he attended the conference despite losing re-election to Campbell earlier that month.
Royce, who announced he was not going to seek re-election in February last year, said he attended despite knowing he was leaving office because he wanted one more chance to influence CSAC on policies that he thinks would benefit the county.
“There are two reasons people go, one is to learn and the other is to influence what they do,” he said. “I have an agenda, and it was my last chance to represent Tuolumne County and basically influence CSAC for our community.”
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.