Officials Should Stop Going on Junkets


Bob Norman’s blog this week highlighted the role special interests have at the Florida League of Cities convention, where they wine and dine public officials.

But let me go one step further than Norman.

Why are officials spending thousands to attend the convention at the same time they are laying off thousands of employees across the state?

My experience — and I’ve been to the League of Cities convention — is they are little more than junkets.  There is a lot of drinking, eating, playing golf and general fooling around.

Oh, we taxpayers will hear how networking with others from across the state is worth the money. We’ll hear how the workshops are valuable.  The convention generates good ideas which can be brought back to Broward.

I got a better idea.

Why don’t you save money! Official should stay at home Aug. 11-13 instead of going to the World Center Marriott in Orlando for the League convention.   In fact, why not forgo all frivolous travel to conventions and workshops.

I know the idea of saving money is a revolutionary idea for many Broward governments, but give it a try.  We taxpayers could use the help.

Norman’s blog is here. 

20 Responses to “Officials Should Stop Going on Junkets”

  1. Smart Move says:

    They are junkets and increasingly officials are not attending them. What we see going are the die hard supporters. It’s a slap to the taxpayer and those names should be disclosed. Not just them, but their spouses who tag along on what amounts to free vacations because while the official pays for a spouse’s airfare, they get to stay at a hotel at no added cost. It is a joke.

    But Norman said something that needs further exploring “I don’t think the comparison to private companies is right-headed either. We don’t care what private businesses do with their money, but we do care greatly what governments do with our money.”

    Sorry, but I don’t buy that entirely. Legally there is an issue with public funds that part is true. But don’t be preaching about culture of corruption and exclude the private sector. Private sector corruption costs citizens much more than all the corrupt politicians on the take put together. Only a hypocrite would disagree.

  2. Richard J Kaplan says:


    I can’t answer for all, but for many of us it is a very useful, needed conference. It is one of the few places where not only do we put together policy, figure out how to defend cities from legislative attack/unfunded mandates, work on legislation, share ideas and programs, but also to take seminars to give us an education on how to do our job better. Government is much harder than you can imagine.

    I even seem to remember several years ago that you were on a panel of journalists that spoke to us about evaluating upcoming candidates for state office. You called Charlie Crist a “Political Nymphomaniac.” I also seem to recall the room was pretty full.

    I can’t say that after hours there aren’t those that go out for the evening. When you travel you do go out. Where they go is another issue, and where people have a problem.

    The only thing I can respond is the Florida League of Cities is a necessary organization providing needed services to locally elected officials to help them serve their constituents.

    If anyone want more information about the League they should go to

    PS Yes, they do play golf, but my understanding is they do that at their own expense and time. Still, I have never been comfortable with that being part of the conference. Also, I am not attending.

  3. Git R Done says:

    Great idea Buddy, now if they will only do just that?
    They should, ya think?

  4. Richard J Kaplan says:

    Dear Smart Move,

    Good comments, but just a couple of points.

    1) Fewer people are going because cities do not have the funds to send people. Unfortunately, it can limit their ability to know how to do their job for those that go to really want to learn. I have found that I have put in from 6 to 14 hour days working on some of these trips.

    2) You are correct that spouses sometimes go (I would say about 10% to the State League meeting), and I would tend to agree that all expenses related to them are paid by the traveler. By the way, if you travel with your spouse the costs far exceed just the travel cost.

    3) As far as I know, who goes is public, and I have seen it published in the newspaper and on the internet before.

    4) As far as my city goes, we require all elected officials who travel more than 24 at the cost to the city, to file a written report of their travel. I have even posted my report or items found in my report on my Blog if it may be of interest to the public. I usually email it staff members in the city with items I want to follow up with or educate on applicable issues. These are public records. So I wouldn’t classify these as junkets.

    As a quick example, from one recent trip, I am trying to create a green designation program for new construction. I got this idea from someone serving in Moscow, Idaho.

    5) I do find validity on your point concerning private business if the business is owned by stockholders. After all, that is stockholders money they are spending, and I expect those funds to be used to benefit stockholders.

  5. LOKI says:

    Yes our officials should stop going to these junkets at our exspense. I truly hope a lot of the Mayors will follow Mayor Kaplans example for what ever the reasons he may not be going.

  6. Floridan says:

    Almost every business and profession has some sort of organization that holds conference where members get together to learn the latest information relevant to the field, as well as to exhange views and observations. Whether it’s the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Medical Association, the American Bankers Association, or the American Society of Civil Engineers, they all find it worthwhile to do this.

    If elected officials come back from these conferences with just one good new idea, or a better perspective on governance, its money well spent.

  7. Privacy 101 says:

    I agree with you, Buddy. This free vacation on the backs of taxpayers should stop. While Richard Kaplan is busy defending these junkets, maybe he could explain why theses same meetings where they discuss unfunded mandates and share ideas couldn’t be done locally – at no expense to the taxpayer.

  8. What? says:

    At best, the League of Cities is a social club where you get to shmooze, get your ego stroked, and I suppose one can learn a little tidbit here and there that could be useful to your city. But the cost to taxpayers is well beyond any benefit. At worst, the League of Cities is an unelected and unaccountable lobbying group, with their own attorneys and other “staff” supported by taxpayer and special interest funds, which pushes narrow, and often harmful, parochial interests, at the expense of the greater community good. Example – sometimes a regional or statewide approach to a public service or need is the best approach. Always count on the League of Cities to lobby fiercely in opposition to protect their “turf.”

  9. Privacy 101 says:

    This Richard Kaplan just doesn’t get it. He’s now defending his free vacations by saying he got a good idea from someone in Idaho. You can get the same good ideas from going onto the Internet and doing research. He even admits spouses travel along for the free trip. Why are these spouses going? It’s obvious. It’s a free vacation. There is hardly an extra cost – except for food. The room is paid for. If they drive, the gas is paid for. And you know what, some of the food is also paid for.

  10. Red-Light Cameras Increase Accidents says:

    And speaking of things that are a waste of money…,0,3222823.story

    Davie may cancel red-light camera program
    Council worried about costs, legal challenges
    By Susannah Bryan, Sun Sentinel
    12:04 a.m. EDT, July 28, 2011

    DAVIE— […] on Wednesday, [Davie] town leaders said they wanted out of the [red light camera] contract, citing fears about legal challenges and the costs of running the program.

    With Councilman Bryan Caletka urging the council to “stop the ludicrousy” and end the contract, Mayor Judy Paul requested the matter be placed on the Aug. 3 agenda for a formal vote.

    Under the contract, Davie was to pay the company $76,000 a month for the cameras.

    Town Administrator Rick Lemack said that cost did not include the attorneys’ fees and overtime for police officers and other staffers needed to oversee the program.

    “This is a horrible deal for the town and its residents,” Councilman Marlon Luis said. “This is a contract set up for ATS to get rich on the backs of our citizens. We’re fleecing our people. It smells to high heaven.”

  11. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    Hi Buddy. You are right on th emoney w/ this story. I mean these elected officals going all around the country on our dime. For instance in Ft.Lau Comm.Bobby Dubose w/ his appoitment to the Broward league went to Denver, right then has the audacity since he depleted his travel monies(joke)and ask money from the others (commisssioners). He spent like over a grand staying at the Hilton or Hyatt(same difference) again on our dime. Meanwhile I am getting calls from HIS constituents telling me about the Police Northwest raiders, and according to these residents are being racially profiled. Where is the City Commissioners I ask, ??See my point all this travel is absurd.Good story. By th eway Buddy I was in Att.Tim Donnelly Off, last week and he likes your blog(as do i ). Little side bar comment in reference to Att.Donnelly “close but no cigar” or “a day late and a dollar short”. Again in reference to a resident running for elected office, that thought they where above the whole process. Your not…

  12. Smart Move says:

    Mayor Kaplan there’s nothing so special that happens at League events that isn’t or shouldn’t be covered in the League’s written communications to officials. I don’t buy that going to League events can be linked very safely to the quality of any official’s job performance. Good taste suggests that spouses not attend these official conferences if only to avoid an appearance problem with the public. This is supposed to be business not pleasure. I also don’t care for the special parties sponsored by city contractors, that smells of corruption.

    I like that your city officials do reports of what they did. Perhaps they could share the reports with other cities, and city officials take turns doing same, so that only a few officials from Broward go to any conference yet all get the benefit. We would all save money that way but it will never happen because as I said before these are junkets.

    I will say this, however. You’re a reasonable man to say this on the record and I respect that.

  13. janitorintheknow says:

    Kaplan voted on Garbage Contract in Lauderhill this year and attended the party last year at Diplomat and they got his vote. No need to invite him this year he already voted. lol

  14. S.O.B. says:

    What is happening to our elected Officials, this is the time of electronic communication…did you ever partake in a WEBINAR ? In past years I had to travel to “the Mother Ship” a few times a year to get the latest it is all on line, to watch, listen, partake, download, etc… Believe it is time that we instist our “Leaders” do the same. Seems like these conferences skirt the ethics laws, and they know it…

  15. Its a Miracle says:

    Every industry has these conventions, whether it is for doctors, lawyers or Indian Chiefs. I have been to several, and in more than one industry. There are parties and there are golfing tours but I have never bought any product just because someone put some shrimp in my mouth or a cheap drink. Would you? The answer is “NO”. You buy because it is the right product or idea or deal. And all it took to pay off big for my business was to get just one deal, idea or product and the trip was paid for many times over.

    I am sure that there are plenty of politicians that go just for the free food and parties but my guess is that they are in the minority. If someone wants to buy a politician, it cannot be done with free shrimp and a golf game. Buddy, if there are payoffs and bribes, go after them, but otherwise this is a non story.


    This isn’t about payoffs and bribes. Its about the prudent use of tax money during an economic downturn. It is also about special interest influence.

    Because of contacts made at the conventions, special interests develop a relationship and thus access to elected officials. They have access that others can not get. That is the reason special interests sponsor these events.

  16. Richard J Kaplan says:

    Final comments (hopefully):

    1) We do have some meetings locally, but there is no way we could get all the information locally. After all, our capital is in Tallahassee, and not everything takes place here. Also, it is far more cost effective to have one meeting in one place. Combining many people from everywhere give the ability to learn far more than other alternatives.

    2) Saying it is a vacation, at least to me, is like saying my college education was a vacation. Maybe for others, but not for me. It is work, and I can easily prove the time I put in has greatly improved what happens in my city and the region.

    3) I would be happy to share my reports with other cities, and actually I have. They likewise have share what they have learned. If we didn’t go, there is no way we would ever learn from each other.

    4) Yes I voted on a Garbage Contract, but I don’t have a clue about a party at the Diplomat. I wasn’t there, and I don’t know who may have put one on. The company that won the contract was the one recommended by staff. On top of that everyones garbage bill went down.

  17. Le Peerman says:

    As I told Bob this is my first trip so I will let you know how it goes. Feel free to criticize me for going in the first place.
    On a few other comments.
    I don’t think Mayor Kaplan is defending the trips as much as he is explaining them to those who may not already have preconceived beliefs about them.
    Janitorintheknow, for the sake of argument I am going to assume you researched all the bids for the contract and found a better contract that was not bought by a piece of chocolate that did not get the contract. Right? My short experience has taught me that sometimes when one hears hoof beats think horses not zebras.
    I believe it is part of my service to my residents to learn everything I can to help make my city better. I spend hours researching online and off trying to find ideas and programs. If I can talk to people who may have ideas I haven’t thought of yet how is that not a good thing? How can learning new things be a bad thing?
    I keep trying to wrap my head around the whole steak, lobster chocolate thingey. I have said in the past and will continue to believe it is not the company that throws the party but the integrity of the person attending it. To lump all elected officials in with the bad ones seems a bit unfair to me. To think that a steak or a piece of chocolate can sway a vote seems grade schoolish to me but I could be wrong I tend to think horses.
    Will report back to you the good bad and the chocolate.

  18. Anonomyte says:

    I am tired of seeing my communities’ tax dollars going to fund this organization. As stated by an earlier blog entry, Webinars is the wave of the future. Maybe the mayor of my city can come back with that new idea.

  19. Death Frog 3 says:

    Here is my.02 These League of Cities trips are BS. The membership is BS. Think about all of the “professional organizations” you belong to. When you go on the yearly trip what is it about? It is like the “free” time share trip. Yes there is some useful things happening but mostly your your wined and dined by salesmen.

    This is the model of all conventions. How much does it cost cities in dues and fees while attending?

    The other interesting thing is the league is a private entity and not open to public records laws although they are funded by tax dollars.

    I say if cities want to stay in the league of cities then ban vendors and lobbyists from conferences.

    The whole thing reminds me of Jimmy Buffett’s “Sharks”

    @ Robert Walsh

    I used to think Tim Donnelly was a “boy scout.” It has hit meDonnelly has no more interest in rooting out corruption than anyone else in that office. His office goes after the “little fish” (and lose more often than not) and let the big fish (where there’s more evidence) off.

  20. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    To “Dead Frog” I have to disagree w/ you/ While I was in Att.Donnelly’s off. let me tell you their was box after box on several County Comm. as well as other elected officals that are no “small fish”. However some are big fish in a little pond(I’ll give you that) but there are fish to fry, trust me. Again I really enjoyed my meeting w/ him and the taxpayer should know that he(donnely) has there back(as do I).