Opinion: Local politicians shouldn’t be traveling to Monterey for a conference

The Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel and Spa is located on the Del Monte Golf Course. Hyatt Regency photo.

OPINION

BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

Many elected officials in San Mateo County plan to go to Monterey on the weekend of April 5-7 for their annual Progress Seminar, put on by the Redwood City-San Mateo County Chamber of Commerce and sponsored by Facebook.

It’s an opportunity for government and business people to get together for networking, enjoying fine meals and merrymaking. They’ll be staying at the 4-star Hyatt Regency Monterey, which offers a golf course, two restaurants, full-service spa, tennis and an outdoor spa.

Conference registration is $725. Two nights at the hotel, if you ask for the conference rate, is $662.20. Total: $1,387.20. The Friday night conference dinner in the past has cost $65, though I don’t know how much it will run this year.

If 300 attend (a guess based on attendance in previous years), that’s over $400,000.

In years past, some of our elected officials have paid for this out of their own pocket. Many others charge it to their city or district, essentially passing the bill to you, the taxpayer.

I’ve got a problem with the county’s elected leaders traveling to another county when there are perfectly good venues in San Mateo County. Our hotels, and the employees who work in them, would appreciate the business.

It says something when the top officials in the county would rather stay in another county.

It’s too late to stop this year’s Progress Seminar, but in 2020, I’d suggest that the theme could be “saving taxpayers’ money.”

Here’s my modest proposal.

Hold the two-day conference at a low-cost venue, like a public high school or the campus of one of our community colleges. The gleaming new buildings at the College of San Mateo are breathtaking, probably better than Ivy League schools like Harvard.

The attendees could return to their homes at night, saving the taxpayers money on hotels.

Seminars would focus on frugality. Topics?

• Maintaining buildings and roads so that they last longer.

• Contracting services to cut labor costs and pension liabilities.

• Introducing a customer-focused attitude at city hall.

• Cutting travel costs by using Skype and other online conferencing systems.

• Incentivizing innovation by rewarding employees who suggest cost-cutting ideas.

• Publishing either online or in print all expenditures so the public can review the information and suggest ways to save money.

• Making decisions without hiring consultants.

• Ending government contributions to charities.

• Paying department heads based on the performance of their departments.

• Improving procurement procedures so there’s more competitive bidding to reduce costs.

• Reducing administrative costs by sharing services with other cities or districts.

• Reviewing city services to see if they’re still needed.

• Selling surplus assets.

• Reviewing leases of city property to ensure tenants are paying market rates.

Instead of a fancy dinner, how about a potluck? Hopefully they wouldn’t poison one another.

Elected officials often forget that they’re spending other people’s money. Moving this conference back from a golf resort in another county to San Mateo County would be a good first step in the direction of being more thrifty with the taxpayer dollar.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

2 Comments

  1. What about the Facebook sponsorship? Does that mean it paid for the hotel or ???
    Accepting any type of gift from Facebook is a conflict of interest, since Facebook has multiple projects coming up for approval.

  2. As I understood it, the cities are still paying for the councilmembers room and fees. But I think Menlo Park ought to get a ruling from the FPPC before any council members go, to make sure this isn’t going to disqualify them from considering FB’s Willows Project.

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