When money is allocated for one purpose but then is used for another, is that legit?
When members of the Lakewood Police Department (LPD), or, for that matter, board members of the Clover Park School District (CPSD), jet across the country to attend conferences – whether using grant funds or department funds, let alone buy Sea-Doos with money earmarked otherwise – are we actually realizing the outcome for which the money was made available?
The LPD, in receipt of $55,503 in grant money to treat problem gamblers, was part of a consortium that sent representatives to several days of conferences in Las Vegas, Nevada, and Orlando, Florida, and Seattle, Washington to learn how to administer the funds.
And when the partnership was dissolved because of the “unwillingness to perform” of unnamed key players as reported in The Suburban Times, the LPD bought a $13,000 Sea-Doo to patrol Lake Steilacoom with grant money designated for treatment of gambling addicts, a watercraft that for years Chief Farrar had sought to buy but couldn’t find the funds to do so, until now, according to Grimley’s article.
While a gambling treatment grant advisor is reported to have said that “it’s not uncommon for grant recipients to ask for money awarded for one purpose to be used for something else,” and added “ultimately you’re talking about money that is used for a good cause,” is a use-it-or-lose-it argument, or even that the money is, after all, used for a “good cause” good enough?
The Lakewood City Council was told on August 6, 2012 that Lakewood’s partnership with the Evergreen Council on Problem Gambling would enroll up to 40 citizens per year over the next four years. But at only 15 months into the program – at which time it ended – “of 43 clients to-date, 20 are still active, 10 have graduated, and 13 dropped out,” according to Lakewood’s June, 2014 report.
Meanwhile grant recipients crisscrossed the country to Orlando for the “annual meeting of Therapeutic Gambling”; Las Vegas “to see how they provide services in their Gambling Court”; and Seattle for the mid-July three-day “27th National Conference on Problem Gambling“ at the Doubletree Hotel, Seattle Airport.
It was the Seattle event that would kick-start the whole program, the theme of which was “Connections: Building Partnerships.” Ironically whatever partnerships Lakewood built would, in just the next fifteen months, collapse.
What was available at these gambling conferences that wasn’t available online?
The National Council on Problem Gambling has, as one might expect, a website, where there is “compiled a list of resources on problem gambling issues, including links to other problem gambling related websites and resources. The NCPG site is intended to facilitate the dissemination of information to the public about problem and pathological gambling.”
For example there is “a 59-page workbook Problem Gamblers and their Finances: A Guide for Treatment Professionals available free of charge.”
That’s “free of charge” as in no travel-related costs. No lodging. No registration. Free. Available online. On your computer. Can be studied at your leisure in your own home. By your fireside. Coffee, cocoa, all available at your fingertips.
True, this stay-at-home thing is not the same as “a paid vacation and chance to get away from the humdrum of everyday life.” No “fancy restaurants, shopping, sightseeing but the job gets done. So why waste the money, only to turn right around and sanctimoniously claim that more funds are needed ‘for the kids,’” writes Brad Ford, critic of such getaways at public expense.
INC magazine once suggested that one of the biggest wastes of money in America is conferences.
Though you will likely hear a similar refrain from the board of the CPSD as the LPD – ‘it’s for a good cause’ – it is also legitimate to ask how authorizing the entire school board of five members plus the superintendent to attend every year for who knows how long the National School Board Association (NSBA) Annual Conference – how such junkets actually serve the purpose of education for which department funds were made available.
Even Ed Bernacki, who wrote the book on how to design more innovative conferences, “suggests that most conferences are just a huge waste of time and money.”
Critical of money – ostensibly to better children’s learning – being used by academic-types – who are forever waving the “more money for education” banner – to traverse the country, Ford wrote and yet “off on a jet plane,” they go, to enjoy “snobbish gourmet meals and fancy hotels paid for by the state,” or in the CPSD’s case: “department funds.”
Just researching the last five years’ worth of approved out-of-state travel, the CPSD board has perennially punched their collective tickets to attend the NSBA annual three-day conferences in San Francisco (2011); Boston (2012); San Diego (2013); New Orleans (2014); and in 2015: Nashville.
In this age of “online platforms,” what can be learned in Music City that can’t be learned while staying home in our own city?
Listen for yourself.
Linked here (and when there click on “Featured Videos”) is the promo by the NSBA Annual Conference where planners list the “top nine reasons to come to Nashville for the 75th Annual Conference of the National School Board Association, March 21-23, 2015.”
Number 8: “Because Nashville is the home of the Grand Ole Opry.”
Number 4: “Because you can wear anything you want.”
Sure, “300 exhibits”; “tons of networking”; “to challenge traditional thinking”; and “hearing the best key note speakers in the industry,” while pretty much rounding out the rest of the pitch along with a no-doubt tongue-in-cheek “opportunity to vote on the color of the new school buses” – which of the more valid reasons actually have merit, whatever the cost is for transportation, hotel fares, meals, sight-seeing, etc., costs that are racked up in the name of education and are borne by district “department funds”?
‘None,’ says Thomas Söderqvist, PhD, a professor in the history of medicine on staff at the University of Copenhagen. “Attending academic conferences is a waste of time, money and environmental resources — and intellectual energy.
“Going to conferences more and more feels like a kind of ritualized masochism. You’re time-lagged and sleep-deprived and are fed tasteless transfat-saturated cookies or small sandwiches with processed meat on soft white bread. Travelling drains your research grant for money that could have been used more productively, produces unnecessary tons of carbon dioxide, and helps transnational hotel chains increase their profit margins.”
And, get this says the good doctor, instead of flying cross-country to hear whomever on their stage or their platform – no matter how entertaining or informative – you could have stayed home in front of your computer while taking advantage of multitudinous “online platforms” and – AND – “you can participate even if you have bad hair or bad breath or forgot to apply your favorite deodorant.”