Local government employees may not have had access to their own jets, but their bosses are still taking a second look at their travel expenditures in the wake of the scandal over John H. Sununu's frequent use of military aircraft - even for ski vacations and trips to the dentist.
Despite the timing, local officials say their own interest in employee travel wasn't sparked by public disclosure of Sununu's trips, which resulted in President Bush clipping the wings of his chief of staff.Sununu took 76 military flights, seven of which were classified as personal, from April 16, 1989, to May 4, 1991. The total cost to taxpayers: more than $600,000. Under the new Bush policy, White House counsel will review Sununu's request "on a case-by-case basis."
Public outcry nationally over Sununu's travel has piqued local interest.
"After what I read (about Sununu) in the newspaper, I think a lot of cities should be bringing up their travel policies," said Sandy Mayor Lawrence P. Smith. "I'm shocked as a public official at some of the travel policies out there on a state and national level."
About the same time Sununu's high-flying problems began to surface, Smith said Sandy's policy was "coincidently" brought up in a cabinet meeting when a department head requested a clarification.
"Coincidently we talked about our travel policy, and determined we have good tight procedures," said Smith. The policy requires that the city's chief administrative officer's approve all over-night trips.
Via the mayor's office, a "no golf-course" provision is part of the policy and is strictly enforced. Simply put, it requires employees who travel to conferences at taxpayers' expense to attend the meetings. "They can play golf after hours but not during the meeting, which is a surprisingly common practice," Smith said.
- Salt Lake County Commission Chairman Jim Bradley said he's been concerned for three months by the lack of scrutiny of county employees taking trips.
"Not that I was alarmed, but I noticed a lot of people taking trips," he said. "We have to remain price-sensitive."
The result was a memo to all elected officials, department and division directors outlining five points to be considered before approving trips. The trip must benefit the taxpayer; must be directly related to the service provided by the employee; the employee must have investigated alternative ways to receive the training provided by the trip; the employee must be able to justify the trip in writing and must provide a report after the trip detailing what was learned.
Bradley said his memo too had nothing to do with the Sununu flap. "It came out just coincidentally," he said.
- West Valley City council members last month asked the city finance staff for a report on travel itineraries and expenses and for a comparison of costs for different modes of transportation.
But the action was prompted by routine oversight, not Sununu's frequent flying, said city manager John D. Newman.
"Every year, the City Council reviews travel and examines any increases," he said.
The council is expected to find few abuses because city officials generally maintain tight control over travel expenses, Newman added. Each travel request is examined by the individual's department head, the city's finance director and Newman.
"Back in 1982-83, travel was way out of hand. We put the clamps on and have kept a careful eye on it since then," Newman said. "We used to deny most requests, but now departments have gotten the message and don't even bother with requests that aren't likely to be approved."
- South Salt Lake's tight budget - not the Sununu issue - is curtailing travel by employees and council members.
"It's already tight. Each department and one council member gets one out of state trip a year," said South Salt Lake Mayor Jim Davis. "It (the allowance) wasn't heavily used this year. I haven't gone out of state in at least two years," Davis said.
- State of Utah: Bud Scruggs, who fills Sun-unu's role at the state level, says an "ironclad" policy prohibits employees from using public resources for private travel.
"For example, I guess I would be the John Sununu of Utah, and when I want to go on vacation, I take my wife and my six kids in my Suburban - not a Department of Transportation plane," said Scruggs, Gov. Norman Bangerter's chief of staff.
But what about the governor? "The governor decides where he's going, then the Department of Public Safety decides how he'll get there. Even then, there's great sensitivity shown," Scruggs said.
Jay Evensen and Joe Costanzo, urban issues writers, contributed to this story.