December 10, 2002 11:00 pm

Union County commissioners have approved a policy that allows for traveling employees to keep the frequent flier miles they accumulate. The new policy was put into place without any discussion because it was included in the commissioners' weekly consent agenda, which is meant for routine matters that — usually — don't require any explanation or debate. The travel policy was new business and should have been addressed as such.

The proposed policy had been reviewed by the county's salary committee, a subcommittee made up of the three non-elected members of the budget committee. Still, the new policy needed a public airing, especially considering the debate that has occurred in other places over the use of frequent flier miles. Taxpayers deserve to know why individuals, not the county, would claim miles earned while on county business.

Putting the issue into the consent agenda did not provide for any public discussion or explanation. Putting it there, along with a new retirement benefit for elected officials, raises some red flags about Union County consent agendas.

The policy came up because of the debate that has occurred in other areas. Commissioners Steve McClure and Colleen MacLeod have never signed up to earn frequent flier miles, so the issue of who gets to use them has never been an issue. Commissioner John Howard applied his frequent flier miles to county business.

So along comes a policy that will allow for county folks to keep the frequent flier miles they earn, even if the miles are earned on trips paid for by the county.

The county needs to take the policy one step further. It needs to set up a frequent flier account or mileage rewards credit card so that it can make sure miles earned on county business stay with the county. Public dollars don't stretch as far as they once did, and considering the mood of the public even in light of all the pending budget cuts, new dollars aren't going to be forthcoming.

Accountability is more important than ever for public bodies. Union County's policy needs to be discussed publicly.

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