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Commission chair closes door on spat over travel

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Disagreement over attending national meeting while cutting budget

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Levy County Commission Chair Nancy Bell had a closed door talk with fellow Commissioner Danny Stevens after the two sparred in a public meeting over her plans to attend a national conference while forcing budget cuts on county constitutional officers, departments and agencies.

The disagreement that started in a public budget workshop moved behind closed doors when Bell politely ushered County Coordinator Fred Moody out of his office and pointed her finger at Stevens indicating he was to come into the office with her. She closed the door as Commissioner Marsha Drew, with her back to the scene, chatted with a county employee and reporter. The fourth Commissioner Lilly Rooks was in a meeting with SHIP program director Dick Tummond down the hall.

Bell and Stevens met for several moments and when the door opened, Bell went into the restroom while Stevens went into another office.

Earlier, Stevens sparked a heated discussion when he asked how many commissioners would be attending the National Association of Counties meeting this week in Nashville, Tenn., where rooms at the conference hotel cost $450 per day.

Depending on how early a person registers, the fee to attend the conference and exposition between Friday and Tuesday ranges from $490 to $625. The even is being held at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center, a large collection of hotel buildings, with numerous amenities spread over nine acres including shopping, eateries and views of the Cumberland River. It has over 2,800 rooms and 174 suites.

Bell, corrected Stevens saying the room she booked was only $167 per day and she was driving her personal auto to the meeting to save on airfare.

“At 44.5 cents per mile,” Stevens shot back.  According to the Mapquest Web site a trip from Chiefland to Nashville is 597.38 miles one way. At 44.5 cents a mile, the round trip, calculated from Bronson 11 miles south of Chiefland would cost close to $550 in mileage.

Stevens said he just learned of Bell’s plans to attend the meeting at county expense on Tuesday afternoon and Bell said it was impossible to cancel the trip because the county would still have to pay for the accommodations and registration fee.

“It may be too late without having to pay half of everything,” Bell said.

“I was aksed to come to the meeting because I’m working on getting on leadership at a national level for Levy County.”

Bell said she was trying to effect actions on the county’s behalf by seeking a leadership role in the association. And she noted that there will be discussions on legislation, solar energy and other items of interest to the county.

According to the Association’s Web site No refund is available for cancellations after July 16.

“We’re talking about the National Association of Counties and we’re telling people they’re going to have to cut, cut, cut,” Stevens said.

After the meeting, Bell responded to questions about planning for the trips saying the commission has never discussed which meetings to attend and who would attend them. And there is no policy on who attends which meeting and how much the county should pay for them.

“We’re going to have a policy on this,” Commissioner Lilly Rooks said after the meeting.

Moody said Wednesday morning that Bell indicated to him she will be paying for her attendance at the meeting instead of billing the county.

He also said he is looking into how other counties handle attendance at outside events and reimbursement for commissioners’ expenses.