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Travel Expense Policy Approved by Braintree Council

An audit showed an increase in travel-related expenses for personnel under the council's purview over the last several years.

Braintree Councilors hash out the travel expenses policy upstairs at Town Hall on Dec. 9, 2013.
Braintree Councilors hash out the travel expenses policy upstairs at Town Hall on Dec. 9, 2013.
A new policy applying to all personnel under the Town Council's purview, including councilors themselves, formalizes the way travel and meeting expenses should be approved.

The council unanimously adopted the policy Monday night. It follows an audit showing an increase in travel-related expenses over the last several years and a lack of oversight.

The approval also comes on the heels of an Open Meeting Law complaint filed by Town Clerk Joe Powers, who claimed that the council violated state rules when creating the travel policy. Councilors agreed to have President Charles Kokoros and Town Solicitor Carolyn Murray draft a letter to the Attorney General stating that the law was not violated.

In response to the audit and the subsequent policy, Powers put together a 214-page binder documenting his travel and the benefits involved in attending numerous professional development meetings. 

The clerk declined to say what he thought about the policy after it was passed Monday, saying that it would be inappropriate to comment as an employee of the council.

"The council has the right to audit and the council has the right to establish policy, and they have done that," Powers said.

Under the new policy, during the budget season each spring personnel must submit a form containing information such as the conference description and agenda, how many days attended, relativity to job function, expected value to the individual and the town, and estimated cost broken down into categories.

All travel must then be approved again by the full council prior to individual trips. Councilor Charles Ryan proposed that addition to the policy through Councilor Leland Dingee, who is on the Committee on Ordinance & Rules and who originally proposed the expense audit.

"When you come up with a budget, it's a guesstimate," Ryan said. "If [the travel] is the right thing to do, I would think that it would pass nine nothing."

The council president must also sign all requests for payment, and unanticipated trips must also be pre-approved during a council meeting. After meetings and trips, a detailed summary must be provided by the attendee.

Kokoros said that all past travel has been submitted to him ahead of time, and its benefits explained, but he acknowledged that he should have handled it better.

"I guess there was a system," he said. "I apologize for not making it more transparent."

Town officials use their travel funding – appropriated as a line item or multiple line items within each department's budget – for various purposes, such as councilors attending the annual Massachusetts Municipal Association conference or the Town Clerk attending national and international clerk association meetings. 

For more on the travel expense audit, see Braintree Councilors Consider Heightened Travel Oversight

For more on the Open Meeting Law complaint, see Council Drafting Letter to AG on Open Meeting Complaint

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