NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - WECT recently acquired travel receipts from a recent trip taken in July by several New Hanover County Commissioners and the County Manager, Chris Coudriet.
Commissioners Beth Dawson, Thomas Wolfe, and Jonathan Barfield joined Coudriet on the trip to the National Association of Counties Annual Conference held in New Orleans from July 11 - 14.
In total, the group spent $10,240.30 on the trip, which included fees for registration, leadership training, transportation, hotel lodging and meals.
According to receipts obtained from New Hanover County, Coudriet, Wolfe and Barfield spent more than $200 on dinner on three separate occasions over the course of the conference.
Those dinners were at restaurants such as Commander's Palace, K'Paul's Louisiana Kitchen and Emeril's Restaurant.
Receipts show the county leaders ordered appetizers, entrees and desserts during some of those dinners, and included a $30 pork chop meal at Emeril's Restaurant and a $38 quail dish from Commander's Palace.
Commissioner Barfield said the conferences he and the other commissioners attended were valuable experiences that directly benefit the county.
At the July conference, Barfield said he learned more about being a transformational leader, and got an opportunity to learn best practices from other local leaders.
Barfield defends the purchases made during the July weekend, and said that food isn't always located in convenient locations on work-related trips.
"You got restaurants surrounding there and the reality is you don't find many restaurants in that quarter of New Orleans, so therefore you eat where you eat," Barfield said.
He said the commissioners are allotted close to $20,000 for travel purposes annually, and he called the expenditures made during the July trip "reasonable".
"I'm a taxpayer just like you are and the reality is that it's in our budget," said Barfield when asked about the receipts. "You've gotta go somewhere and you've gotta eat. Most of the trips I take, I eat at Chick-fil-A or Subway. I'm a pretty good steward of resources."
Coudriet echoed a similar sentiment.
"I don't believe there is anything excessive or inappropriate about where individuals or a group from New Hanover County chose to have dinner," said Coudriet about the trip. "I can absolutely justify every dollar that anybody from New Hanover County spent at the National Association of Counties."
Commissioner Beth Dawson did travel to the conference, however she said she did not use county dollars for some of her pricier dinners.
"It depends on the restaurant you go to and that type of thing. Again, I only turned in expenses that equated to the per diems allowed," explained Dawson.
Dawson said she did not join Coudriet, Barfield or Wolfe for any meals exceeding $200.
According to New Hanover County policy, county employees are allowed $10 for breakfast, $13 for lunch and $23 for dinner when traveling for county business.
County Commissioners are not required to follow these guidelines.
Woody White, Chairman of the New Hanover County Commissioners, did not travel to the July conference.
In a phone interview, White gave this statement regarding commissioner travel procedures.
Each commissioner gets their own information from different sources. I get most of mine from online resources, county staff or the citizens at large. I choose not to travel at the taxpayer's expense.