The Florida Inland Navigation District, the taxpayer-supported agency that manages and maintains waterways in 12 counties on Florida’s East Coast has changed the way it does business.
The changes recently approved by district commissioners at the recommendation of Executive Director David Roach fall on the heels of a nine-month investigation into FIND operations by Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. While 98 percent of the $20 million FIND collects annually from taxpayers goes into projects such as dredging, piers, boat ramps, shoreline stabilization, boardwalks and marinas, the investigation found questionable expenditures for travel and the district’s monthly meetings.
The investigation results, reported in December, showed that FIND had spent more than $503,000 on travel and meetings for district commissioners — one appointed by the governor for each county in the district — and staff since 2005, including stays at luxury hotels, cocktail parties and expensive airline costs. Yet their meetings, open to the public, are rarely attended by citizens. Rather, they are more often attended by local government officials and members of the marine industry.
Reforms approved by the district board, with input from the district’s auditor and attorney, include:
Seek to find hotel rooms with fewer fees and lower room rates.
Staff to work to ensure that the district continues to book hotels that can adequately accommodate meeting needs at reasonable rates while staying away from hotels that create the perception of extravagance.
Staff will continue to advise commissioners traveling by air to get their tickets early when possible to keep cost down.
When commissioners rent vehicles to attend meetings, they will be advised to get the most economical vehicle that meets their needs.
Travel expenses will be paid with district credit cards and not itemized on travel reimbursement vouchers.
Commissioners delegate authority to the executive director to “authorize travel and make decisions about the most economical method of travel in accordance with (Florida Statutes) for staff and commissioners.
To ensure better community outreach, staff is increasing the waterway information available at the events, incorporating more presentations and placing display advertisements in local papers.
These are common sense efforts that should have been made a long time ago.
Few question the value that FIND brings to the communities it serves, though many in the public are not very aware of what FIND does and how it spends public money. Reducing any appearances of extravagant spending and being more transparent and open to the public are valuable steps in assuring public confidence in how their taxes are spent.
But these reforms are just first steps. In this day of teleconferences — that can be held for free via mobile device — there’s no reason for FIND to rent hotels for its meetings. Other reforms are due with respect to acquisition and implementation of land, its future use, and how the public is notified.
Now that it’s come up with a set of good reforms, the district must put them into action. Let’s hope they do.