Miss rehab department sends 17 to 1 NY conference

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The state department created to help disabled Mississippi residents sent 17 people to a conference in New York last month.

The Department of Rehabilitation Services bill for the conference is incomplete but at least $30,000, The Clarion-Ledger reported (http://on.thec-l.com/1aCsfcT).

Department Director Butch McMillan says he approved travel for so many to the National Rehabilitation Association only because one staffer was being named its president-elect.

“I questioned it myself on the front end,” McMillan said. “They finally ground me down. I wouldn’t do that again, send that many people to one conference . No, it was definitely an anomaly. We don’t normally do that.”

But records show 17 DRS employees attended the same conference in Chicago last year, 13 went to the conference in 2011 in Salt Lake City, and four went to the association’s annual board meeting in Chicago.

Although McMillan said “the National Rehab Association, that’s really something that’s more for the counselors than administration,” he went on all four trips.

DRS has spent about $1.4 million this year and last on in-state and out-of-state travel, with this year’s bill about $20,000 above last year’s. In less than two months of the first quarter of this fiscal year, numerous DRS officials traveled to conferences in Atlanta; Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Oklahoma; Nevada; New York; New Orleans; Nashville; Kentucky; Virginia; Rhode Island; Chicago; and elsewhere, the newspaper reported.

But McMillan said his agency has cut travel to out-of-state conferences. It was down to $177,000 for 2013, compared to $188,000 the year before.

And this year, he only allowed a couple of people this year to go to the Mississippi Association of Certified Public Accountants convention in Destin, Fla. In years past, several DRS employees went, including some who aren’t CPAs or accountants.

State leaders, including Gov. Phil Bryant and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, say some government travel is necessary, but they suspect there is abuse and they want to cut such spending.

“Is some travel justified? Absolutely,” said Reeves, who this week will be presiding over budget hearings with agency leaders. “But do seven or eight people from one agency need to go on one trip? Those are the kind of questions that need to be answered. In many instances, it appears there are travel expenses that are frivolous and taxpayers should not be paying for it.”

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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