Murray elected leaders’ travel spurs policy changesSep 08, 2023 12:49PM ● By Shaun Delliskave
The Utah League of Cities and Towns held their midyear conference in St. George, where many Murray City councilmembers attended. (Photo courtesy of ULCT)
Murray City Council is on a diet—a travel diet. In an escalated debate surrounding the council’s travel policies, the council offered up an unprecedented three proposals at the June 27 council meeting on how much each coun.cilmember could spend for city-paid business trips.
From Washington, D.C., to Las Vegas, councilmembers have attended 12 conferences and trips since January 2022. These journeys, aimed at educational and policy-improvement objectives, also raised topics regarding transparency, spending and tangible benefits for Murray City residents. From January 2022 to August 2023, Murray’s elected officials have spent $100,667.96 on travel.
Initially, these trips were funded through the council’s general budget, the Power Department fund, and the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) fund. Starting in July 2023, all travel expenses will come exclusively from the council’s general budget, which is taxpayer money. This shift is expected to increase scrutiny over the public value of these conferences.
In a divided vote, the Murray City Council approved a revised travel policy that caps each council member’s travel expenses at $7,500. The revision aims to increase fiscal responsibility and transparency in council operations.
After a review of the existing travel policy, the council engaged in a discussion that spanned into two Council and Committee of the Whole meetings. After researching policies in different cities and consulting legislative personnel, Councilmember Garry Hrechkosy found that Murray City’s travel budget was unusually high compared to other municipalities—his proposal aimed to cap each councilmember’s travel budget at $7,500.
Opinions varied among the councilmembers during the meeting. Councilmember Diane Turner advocated for retaining the current policy, arguing that the budget should be based on the council’s overall yearly needs. On the other hand, Councilmember Pam Cotter stressed fiscal caution, proposing a budget allocation of $5,800 for each of the six members, including council staff.
In an interesting twist, Cotter also noted that her policy, as well as the one proposed by Hrechkosy, had specific monetary limitations in contrast to Turner’s open-ended budget. Turner clarified that her proposal did have limits based on an overall amount determined annually by the council.
Motions and Results
The first motion to retain the existing policy, led by Turner, failed due to a lack of a second. Councilmember Phil Markham then moved to adopt Hrechkosy’s proposal, which Councilmember Rosalba Dominguez seconded. A subsequent amendment to reduce the cap from $7,500 to $6,500 also failed. However, the original proposal was approved in a narrow 3-2 vote, with Markham, Dominguez and Hrechkosy voting in favor and Cotter and Turner opposing.
Councilmembers emphasized the importance of continuing education and the value of attending local and national conferences. Dominguez stressed the significance of professional development, stating, “Councilmembers should serve the community.” She highlighted the importance of making informed decisions and the opportunity to learn from department heads and the mayor.
Markham, who supported the revised policy, pointed out that “guardrails” were necessary. He added that future councils could amend the policy based on their needs and priorities.
Although opinions vary on best practices, this policy change represents a significant step toward fiscal responsibility and transparency for the Murray City Council. As it stands, the new travel policy caps expenses at $7,500 per councilmember.
Costliest Conferences Identified
The National League of Cities (NLC) Congressional City Conference was the most expensive event. The highest expense for a single event reached $19,930.06 in March 2022. All council members and the council director attended.
Over two years, Turner and Dominguez emerged as the most frequent travelers among the councilmembers. Both attended eight different conferences, accumulating costs of $15,041.64 and $19,419.90 respectively. Markham, who was sworn in January 2023 but resigned in July, marked his presence at three conferences, generating expenses totaling $6,327.06.
Locations and Frequencies
Washington, D.C., and St. George, Utah, emerged as the most popular conference destinations. Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, holds significance for legislative rallies and NLC events, while St. George is a favorite for the Utah League of Cities and Towns (ULCT) midyear Conferences.
Grand Totals and Funding
The total expenditure for 2022 amounted to $38,246.79, closely followed by an estimated $38,790.84 for 2023, summing up to an overall expense of approximately $77,037.63. Initially, these trips were financed using various funds, but starting in July 2023, all travel will be funded solely by the council’s budget.
Council Director Jennifer Kennedy accompanied the council on six trips, mainly on the NLC Congressional City Conferences and ICSC, totaling $8,505.16.
Direct Impacts and Outcomes
No official reports have been released after these conferences. However, at the Aug. 22 council meeting, after the Murray Journal requested travel information, Cotter reminded the council that they would submit reports after their August trip to the UAMPS conference.
The council’s new travel policy does not impact the mayor’s office. Mayor Brett Hales’ travel budget is governed and approved via the council in the city budget process.
According to the data, the mayor is often accompanied by different city staff members at these events. For example, the Communications Director, Tammy Kikuchi, was part of the National League of Cities Conference delegation, and the Chief Administrative Officer, Doug Hill, attended the ULCT conferences.
The overall cost for the mayor’s travel in 2022 was approximately $11,774.51; for 2023, the year-to-date total is $11,855.82. These expenditures were primarily covered by the city’s General Fund and the Redevelopment Agency (RDA) fund. An exception is the specialized NuScale tour, which the Power Department’s enterprise fund funded.
Objective of Travel
City Attorney GL Chritchfield responded to the Murray Journal’s request for information: “Conference attendance was not intended to enter into any agreements or to result in any decisions. Rather, the conferences are hosted by premiere organizations that educate, inform, and provide a venue for connecting with other elected officials statewide, regionally, or nationally, as applicable. Each conference includes timely information that provides a better understanding of issues a mayor faces, and that informs administrative decisions, generally.”
A specialized tour of NuScale facilities was undertaken to assess the potential of rejoining the NuScale project. No decision on this matter has been made yet.
Critchfield said, “There are no written reports or memorandums from the conferences attended. The mayor includes a short summary report to the city council at the council meeting following a conference.”
In a previous version of this story, the number of conferences and total expenses for Phil Markham was incorrectly stated.