The Birmingham City Council decided Tuesday that the neighborhood officers it is sending to a conference in Palm Springs, California, don’t have to write reports to share the knowledge they gained with the city.
The council in its March 19 meeting approved sending up to 297 people, three from each of the city’s neighborhoods, to the Neighborhood USA conference.
At about $1,600 per person, the trips could cost the city roughly $475,000.
Council President Pro Tem William Parker this week introduced the addendum to the previous funding resolution “to include that the representatives shall be free to attend this year’s scheduled conference … without obligation of journaling, recording, and/or submitting their learning experiences during the 2018 NUSA Conference.”
Parker argued that the resolution would make it easier for officers “to travel and learn more about best practices as it relates to neighborhood conferences.”
The NUSA conference is an annual event that provides “an opportunity for people from all locations, sectors, and levels of society to discuss the pressing issues of the times, share experiences and offer assistance, motivation and encouragement,” according to NUSA’s website. The conference offers presentations from “leaders, strategists, practitioners and peers” on successful neighborhood practices, though the website also highlights nearby recreational opportunities in Palm Springs.
District 9 Councilor John Hilliard argued that, because neighborhood officers “work extremely hard throughout the year,” they should not have to face any encumbrances to their travel if they did not submit a written report.
“I travel on behalf of this city, and I come back and try to report back to my people, but I don’t always write a report,” he said. “I would not be encumbered from being able to travel, and I would like to suggest the same for our neighborhood leaders.”
Council President Valerie Abbott argued that written reports were part of the rules for taxpayer-funded travel. “If you’re not coming back and reporting to the people in your neighborhood and the people who sent you on the trip, that’s a problem,” she said. “If you can’t do something simple like write a report, a little one-pager, there’s a problem with that, in my opinion … . If you couldn’t meet a simple requirement like that, then someone else needs to go on this trip who can do that.”
District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt argued that, not only were the reports unnecessary, he wouldn’t want to read them even if they were turned in. “I’ve got enough stuff to read every weekend,” he said. “I would not be interested in that. What I’m interested in is what they come back and do.”
Woodfin seemed confused by the argument against the reports. “If the purpose is to go to learn and be trained and bring back information, why wouldn’t you do reports?” he asked.
He also pointed to statistics from last year’s NUSA conference, which was hosted in Birmingham. Of the 332 Birmingham representatives who attended that conference, he said, only 35 percent to 58 percent of them attended workshops. “That’s a problem,” he said.
The item passed with six councilors in favor. Abbott and District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn voting against it. District 2 Hunter Williams was absent from the meeting at the time of the vote.