WE HAVE never been of the school that rejects out of hand attendance at conferences that enable public employees to improve their skills. Developing a better workforce is a good investment for government. But the decision by District officials to send 30 — 30! — employees to a conference in Texas at the height of the federal government shutdown reflected the poorest of judgment.
Managers and employees of the city’s parks and recreation department traveled to Houston to attend the National Recreation and Park Association Congress and Exposition from Oct. 7 to 11. Details of the trip and questions about the $54,000 cost to taxpayers were first reported by WRC-TV (Channel 4).
No doubt there was useful information to be gleaned at this national gathering, and it was probably reasonable for the District — its parks department still a work in process — to be represented. But, as Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) acknowledged, “There’s just no way we should have sent that number of people at that level of expense.” Mr. Gray had not been aware of the trip but ordered a review after it became publicized. A spokesman for the mayor told us that some money would be reimbursed by employees.
The controversy could prove to be a stumbling block in the D.C. Council’s confirmation of
Jesús Aguirre, the former parks director involved in the trip’s approval, as state schools superintendent.
What made the excursion particularly outlandish is that it came during the
shutdown, in which the District was forced to tighten spending amid public fretting that it would run out of money. Some council members are talking about legislation to formally limit the amount of money agencies can spend on travel. We think that would be legislative overreach and a poor substitute for the simple use of common sense when expending public funds.