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This is how Channel 11 in Dallas found out about this story and they tell you how to get your own information - here is what they found out and you can search your own town or government for the same information ... 53684.html

Report: County Officials Taking Trips On Your $
Bennett Cunningham
COLLIN COUNTY (CBS 11 News) ― Some call it offensive and outrageous.

Taxpayer funded junkets for judges and elected officials are paid for out of the county checkbook with no oversight.

A CBS11 investigation of Collin County records shows taxpayers paid for more than a dozen officials to take a trip to Orlando and Tampa for three days.

The group consisted of Collin County judges, clerks, commissioners and administrative staff. They went there to tour a courthouse, and some attended a court technology conference.

The price tag was roughly $20,000.

Some taxpayers, like Harry Kepner, question whether the people he trusts spend his money wisely. "I'm paying their salary," he said. "Unfortunately, I cannot control what they do."

CBS11 unearthed records showing some of these officials rented three top-of-the-line luxury cars, some costing $400 a week. They returned one car near empty. They were charged $7.19 per gallon of gas.

Some charged taxpayers for valet parking and room service. Others feasted on lobster at the Kobe Japanese Steak House in Tampa and filet mignon at Tampa's legendary Bern's Steakhouse. Taxpayers even paid for their chewing gum.

Michael Q. Sullivan, President of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, said, "Someone has to cry foul. Someone should lose their job over this. I think [these] are the worst kind of junkets, because they are purporting to benefit the taxpayer, and it's nothing more than an additional paid vacation."

Judge Keith Self heads up the Collin County Commissioners Court. He said he felt the trips were necessary because the county was committed to purchasing a new $20-million electronic court system. He admited the trips may be perceived as "a little excessive," but he went on to say, "Elected officials have discretion to take the trips as they deem necessary."

Some may call that discretion with apparently no oversight, because two months after the Tampa trip, a dozen elected officials and staff flew to Las Vegas for another courthouse technology tour. In fact, four of the same people who went to Florida also flew to Sin City.

The cost to taxpayers was approximately $10,000.

According to Judge Self, commissioners get a travel fund worth $10,000 for county business. But according to the Collin County travel policy, there are no caps on spending for any trips, including out of town trips. All the other North Texas counties have spending caps in place.

This policy allowed Collin County judges Dan Wilson and Greg Willis to stay at the famous Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino in the Gold Club level rooms. Those rooms came equipped with a king size bed, a marble bathroom, leather sofa and a flat panel television.

Everyone else on the trip stayed in a much cheaper, basic room at a third of the price. Both judges told us they needed a non-smoking room, and this room was the only available option.

Another elected official, Judge Chris Oldner, stayed at the exclusive Planet Hollywood hotel on the Vegas strip. The room was more expensive than the basic room at the Golden Nugget.

Judge Oldner defended the trip calling it "very productive" to help launch Collin County's new electronic court system.

Texans for Fiscal Responsibility might not accept that rationale. Michael Sullivan said, "They do these things with the presumption that no one will find out."

But that's not all CBS11 uncovered.

Commissioner Jerry Hoagland took a trip to Miami, Florida. Hoagland spent $2,200 of taxpayer money for a trip to Miami to learn how to be an effective negotiator.

According to Judge Self, the commissioners do not negotiate. Self said, "We have a staff that does our own negotiating."

In a telephone conversation, Hoagland insisted that he does negotiate and found the course useful.

The same course is offered in Texas, and a similar $89 course is available at Collin County Community College, the college district Hoagland helped to create.

But Commissioner Hoagland said he would "do it again."

Judge Self said that Collin County plans to revise its travel policy, which was last revised 15 years ago.

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