If elected, NHC candidate says she would pay out of pocket for travel expenses

If elected, NHC candidate says she would pay out of pocket for travel expenses
The WECT investigative team has looked into how local leaders travel on your dime. The question of whether New Hanover County should have a formal travel policy for elected leaders is now an issue in this year's election. Some candidates for commissioner want limits and one says she will even pay her own way.
“I would be prepared, as running for office right now is to pay my own expenses,” says Patricia Kusek, a Republican running for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners.
If elected, Kusek says she would foot the bill for hotels and food while traveling for the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. According to county policy there is no set travel per diem for elected officials....only a spending cap for county staffers.

"I think there should be people running for office and elected to office that do have the stature and the wherewithal to step up to the plate themselves," she says.
Beth Dawson, current board chairwoman, is running for re-election.
"I think it should send up red flags to our citizens that a candidate is trying buy a seat as opposed to actually earning their vote," Dawson says.

Last year, alongside commissioners Rob Zapple and Jonathan Barfield, she voted against requiring the board comply with the county's travel policy, though she admits she does so voluntarily.

"It's a non-issue," Dawson says. "Never has been an issue."

However, it is an issue for other Republican candidates, like Campbell Dodd.

"I mean there's got to be some kind of limitations," he says.

Dodd says he also feels paying for travel out of pocket is just not feasible.

"I don't think there's many people out there that can pay their own way for their travel expenses in a capacity of what's been asked of them to do," Dodd says.

Fellow candidate Derrick Hickey agrees, telling WECT in a statement that Kusek's position is "elitist" and sent a video showing a behind the scenes look at Kusek's closet. Hickey says the video shows how Kusek is out of touch with most county residents.

But Kusek isn't phased.

"It's time for him to stop talking about what other people aren't doing and for him to start talking about what it is that he's about and what he's doing," she says.
WECT reached out to all Republican candidates for New Hanover County Commission to get their stance on Kusek's travel policy position.
Here is Derrick Hickey's entire statement:

NEW HANOVER COUNTY, NC (WECT) - "I can't see myself utilizing the county's reimbursement policy. I did not seek reimbursement for expenses in my time on the New Hanover County Board of Education. With that said, Ms. Kusek's position that only those who can "foot their own bill" should be eligible to hold public office is not "crass" – it's elitist. A policy like that would, in effect, prevent the average person in New Hanover County from being able to hold public office. If it is her position that activities carried out in public service should not be compensated, one has to wonder why she has for five years endorsed a policy whereby Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board members are compensated $300/month regardless of meeting attendance. Ms. Kusek should know that you can't run from your record, regardless of the campaign promises you make going forward. It is clear the Ms. Kusek is out of touch with the struggles that our county residents experience day to day and year to year. She has endorsed and/or implemented policies in her time on the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority Board that drive this point home; fines, fees and penalties are high enough to bankrupt some residents or to force them to move. Ms. Kusek lives a very different life from most people in New Hanover County. She has purses and shoes that cost more than the typical car driving on county roads. If you don't believe me, reference https://vimeo.com/87729555. While I don't begrudge anyone nice things, we don't need more elected officials who are out of touch with the people they serve. Elected officials should not take advantage of those they govern; likewise, we should never enact policy which would prevent the average citizen from serving in public office."

Woody White's statement:

"I do not travel a lot but do believe we could pay for it ourselves or at least limit it, but Dawson Barfield and Zapple want unlimited travel."

Campbell Dodd:

"My take is if you can afford to do it that's ok. But if everyone could afford it then what type of politicians will we have. The ones that have all the gold. Sounds like going backwards kings and queens, somebody forget why America was started. I want to be represented by someone like me, someone that works hard and understands the value of my money our money, the people's money. The Board of Commission is the leader or our local government, they need to be able to represent New Hanover County and its citizens in a positive way,  especially if they are recruiting for the county. I have never worked for any corporation where the CEO's expense account was the same as mine. That said it is important to be mindful and responsible of the county's money. I suggest that maybe those running for office donate 10% of their campaign funds to go toward offsetting the travel budget for the board. Now that will take care of the problem without harming the citizens and the travel budget becomes a non issue."

John Babb:

"Although, I am unfamiliar of the context of Ms. Kusek's' remarks, I agree with her when she says "…I know this is going to sound a little crass …" Her comments are both tactless and ridiculous. It appears her interpretation of candidates for elected office should be limited to those among us who can "foot their own bill". It would be nice, but then we would have only elected officials from a wealthy class of people. This is not only insensitive; it's wrong.

Everyone on approved official travel for the county or their company is entitled to reimbursement for reasonable expenditures in the performance of their approved official travel. What is next, county employees "footing their own bill"? I hope no one will define our citizens, county employees. or elected leaders by who they are or how much they can pay; rather for what they can contribute to our communities.

My opinion is every county employee, including commissioners, managers, supervisors, etc. should be use the same travel policy. And be reimbursed at the same rate and with the same limitations. Public Service, including official travel, is about responsibility and accountability. The commissioners must make their best value judgment regarding a county travel policy and it could be a first-step in rebuilding public trust.

Albert Einstein once stated: “Try not to become a man of success; rather a man of value”. We should all be so capable."

Beth Dawson:

"Actions speak louder than words. I suppose that a candidate will say that they will not ask for reimbursement, but then not take the time to actually serve, or go to any educational classes or Association of County Commissioner's meetings, as is the case with Mr. White, but that statement that you refer to is just political rhetoric once again from Ms. Kusek.

For you see, the truth is she has collected her 300.00 per month stipend from the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority, along with another reimbursement of 54.00 per month for her Ipad, along with an expense paid trip to New York City, courtesy of the ratepayers of CFPUA.

When I was elected, I committed to be an engaged and accessible commissioner, in order to represent all of our county's citizens. It is important that New Hanover County be at the table on the local, regional, state, and national levels to be included in those conversations that impact issues that will effect our economy, our revenues, education, and shoreline preservation funding, just to name a few.  I also committed to doing my homework and learning as much as I can about the many issues that effect our citizens, in order to make the most informed decisions.  It is also important that our Board be representative of the citizens we serve, and not just by those who can afford to write big checks.

Each commissioner must decide how much time they are willing to commit to their public service. I have always abided by the same per diem and policies that govern our employees, we have a line item for travel and training in our budget, and it has not been exceeded.

Again, actions, and the records, speak louder that words."

WECT reached out the the CFPUA about Dawson's statement. Here is what authority spokesman Mike McGill says:

"All of our board members receive a $300-a-month stipend for their work on our board.

In 2014, CFPUA moved from a paper-based work process to one that is almost completely electronic to save our customers tens of thousands of dollars a year in printing costs.  Board members were provided with two options to work with the electronic process: 1) use of a CFPUA-issued tablet, or 2) use of their own personal device.

To also cut down on costs, CFPUA uses a system where a stipend is provided to pay for use of the person's personal device for CFPUA work.  Because Ms. Kusek uses her personal tablet for CFPUA work, she receives a stipend of $54 a month.  This is not a unique arrangement.  CFPUA offers the same stipend to all of our board members who use their personal devices for CFPUA work, as well as to essential personnel who are required to be available at all times.

Concerning the trip to New York City, it occurred on October 29 and 30, 2014, a two-day, one-night trip where Jim Flechtner, CFPUA's Executive Director; Cheryl Spivey, our then-Chief Financial Officer; and Pat Kusek, Chair of the CFPUA Board, went to New York City to help direct our bond sale to fund CFPUA's capital improvement projects.

The group arrived in New York City around noon on October 29 and met with key bond sale-related personnel at Citi throughout the remainder of the business day.  The actual bond sale at Citi began at 8:30 a.m. the next morning and continued throughout the day, successfully ending mid-afternoon on the 30th.  Mr. Flechtner, Ms. Spivey, and Chair Kusek departed New York City at 7 p.m. and returned to Wilmington at 11:30 p.m.  Chair Kusek paid for her one-night stay in a hotel, while CFPUA paid for her flight.  Chair Kusek also received $78 as a total reimbursement for meals for the two days."

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