Mr. Williamson goes to Washington

Our freshman county commissioner, Rob Williamson, flew to Washington, D.C., April 13 and returned April 16 with $2,745.11 in receipts.

He flew Delta Airlines for $917.20. A roundtrip flight from Northwest Florida Regional Airport to D.C. midweek is around $345. That’s planning a month in advance. The county made Williamson’s arrangements four days prior to the D.C. event, because he was a last-minute fill-in for Commission Chairman Don Salter.

With that in mind, we tried to book a flight for Friday and the cost was $400. Even first class was less than $700. And that’s directly through the airport website. Has the county not heard of Expedia or Hotwire, or sites that allow you compare prices?

Next, we have his hotel accommodations. Williamson spent three nights at the Crystal Gateway Marriott. The first night cost the county $469, plus state tax ($28.14) and occupancy tax ($32.83). The second and third nights cost $519, plus state tax ($31.14) and occupancy tax ($36.33). In total, the taxpayers shelled out $1,702.91 for him to sleep.

According to Joy Tsubooka, the county’s public information officer, when the reservations were made, rates were as high as $999 per night, and Williamson’s room was the least expensive available.

That’s a relief, but was it necessary to put him up at that specific Marriot? The event he was in town for took place at the Ritz Carlton; the Residence Arlington Capital View, which is even closer, cost $339 for midweek rates.

Williamson also received a meal per diem of $125, or $31.25 per day. Seems conservative compared to the rest of the expenditures.

Let’s be clear – Commissioner Williamson did not book his own travel accommodations, a staff member at the county level made the arrangements. What we’d like to know is how the county justifies spending that kind of money to send a virtual newbie on a four-day jaunt to D.C. Family vacations cost less.

According to policy, the county pays business travel expenses “when the travel is necessary and of benefit to the county.”

We emailed Williamson for specifics regarding this trip, but he didn’t respond. When reached by phone, he said “it wasn’t a good time to talk.”

Since “it wasn’t a good time” to tell the taxpayers why they spent a few thousand dollars on this trip, we went to Williamson’s Facebook page on a quest for answers.

On Monday, after the Navarre Press requested his travel receipts, he listed the expenses on his personal page, writing: “I will continue to post my travel narrative and expenses as long as I serve as your representative.”

But we scrolled through his page – all the way back to December – and he doesn’t make one mention of previous expenses. Which is interesting, since he purchased new furniture for his Navarre satellite office in December, one month after he was elected. He didn’t waste any time spending that county money. He, sorry, we spent $900 on a desk, nearly $400 on a book case and $155 on a chair. Add tax and delivery, and our bill was $1,593. I guess his idea of transparency is different from ours.

He also wrote: “It was clear to me our neighboring counties spend a great deal of time and effort relationship building and advocating for their interests on the Hill … It would serve SRC well to strengthen our relationships with DC decision makers.”

Really? The county should spend nearly $3,000 to “strengthen relationships” with people who already represent us? Has Williamson or the other commissioners invited those representatives to Santa Rosa? Are they so elusive that Williamson needs to hop on a plane to track them down?

We asked Williamson specifically how his trip would benefit the county. It’s funny – he can take four days out of his schedule for a free trip to D.C., but when we ask him why, he doesn’t have time to answer his constituents.

 

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