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Should outgoing elected leaders travel with taxpayer money?

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Should outgoing elected leaders travel with taxpayer money? That’s the question up for debate in the Jefferson County Commission Chamber.

Jefferson County's Assistant Tax Assessor who works out of Bessemer lost his bid for re-election in the June Primary.

Most newly elected leaders take office at the end of the year. Tax assessors, however, serve until the start of a new fiscal year in October. That gives Andrew Bennett 15 more months in office.

"During that time, I do intend to continue to take care of county business, state business or whatever you want to call it,” explained Bennett. “It is important for me to network. And it is not only a networking trip, but an educational trip.”

Bennett wants to go to Orange Beach in August to attend an educational conference. He also had asked to attend another conference at the coast in June, taking place just days after he was defeated.

"It was unusual that we had someone who had just been defeated in a primary election that would want to immediately go to for further education,” said Jimmie Stephens, Jefferson County Commissioner.

"As a general statement, I don't think lame duck elected officials should be going on educational travel,” added Commissioner David Carrington.

Jefferson County Commissioners denied Bennett's first request, which was for approximately $2,000.

"I was really surprised that they've taken anything to do with that,” said Bennett. “It's supposed to be a formality that they, you know, would just pass through."

"The way it’s set up is the commission reviews expenditures of public funds in the County. So, if that's his opinion, he needs to go change the statute,” responded Carrington.

But, Bennett isn't giving up. He still wants to go to Orange Beach for the August conference, with a price tag of approximately $1,000.

"In this office, it's very necessary to be able to know your legislators because this office is governed by laws and rules and regulations from the state of Alabama,” said Bennett. “So it is in any rules and regulations that have changed, it is done by the legislature. It is not done by the County Commission."

Stephens says the money for the trip is set aside. But, he'd rather see employees in the office go.

“It's much more practical to send someone who's going to be there for the next 30 years to gain that institutional knowledge,” Stephens argued.

"That's not their concern, shouldn't be their concern,” said Bennett. “First of all, I am the tax assessor. I am the elected official so it is my decision to send me."

Jefferson County Commissioners are expected to vote on Bennett's trip next week.  

Commissioner David Carrington believes that because of this debate, the county will begin crafting a new travel policy for elected leaders.

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