We recently asked veteran College of Lake County board member Barbara Oilschlager to explain some of her taxpayer-funded expense reimbursements included in a Daily Herald Suburban Tax Watchdog report.
Specifically, we wanted to hear about her trip to Boston for a three-day national community college conference in October 2012. Her response was surprisingly and disturbingly opaque. It seemed she didn't recognize taxpayers have a justified right to know why elected officials spend their money as they do.
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Some of her expenses particularly cry out for explanation, and they emphasize the need for all governing boards to establish clear, reasonable policies for travel expenditures. In the March issue of its "Trustee Talk" publication, the Association of Community College Trustees recognizes the value of state and national meetings for local trustees, but emphasizes the transparency and discipline required to assure taxpayers that officials are spending public money wisely on travel.
ACCT outlined several guidelines that Oilschlager, other CLC officials and indeed officials at any public governing body should follow, including requiring trustees to follow the same spending protocols as all college employees, reimbursing travel costs according to the least-expensive mode of transportation, paying only housing or expense reimbursements incurred during the specific duration of a conference or meeting and more.
Some of these suggestions strike at the heart of our questions regarding Oilschlager's trip, which came to light in Jake Griffin's March 12 column about CLC trustees spending nearly $110,000 in food and travel expenses over the past two years. Appropriately, the bills prompted some new spending protocols at CLC, and the recommendations by the national trustees organization reinforce the controls taxpayers have a right to expect.
Records show Oilschlager drove to Boston for the Association of Community College Trustees convention and charged taxpayers $1,198.73 in mileage and tolls, considerably more than it would have cost to fly. She charged taxpayers $1,847 for six hotel nights during the four-day conference..
When asked about the expenses, Oilschlager said only she preferred to drive, rather than fly. "People travel different ways for different reasons," she told the Daily Herald's Bob Susnjara.
Asked if she made personal stops while driving, Oilschlager said: "I'm not even going to respond to that."
She stressed her submissions were within local guidelines and state statutes.
Taxpayers may well question whether that is an adequate standard. And in this case or any other, they deserve thorough, respectful answers. It's worth noting, too, that if policies like those recommended by the ACCT are in place, they may not even have to ask.