Taxpayer tab for UVU employee’s California adventure: $2K

 

After a KSL viewer snapped a photo of aUtah taxpayer-owned vehicle parked near Disneyland earlier this year, the state fleet office identified the minivan as belonging to Utah Valley University (UVU).

In mid-April a UVU employee drove the vehicle to a conference in the Anaheim, Calif., area. The journey was in fact an approved business trip, but the employee failed to get permission to drive the van to and from Disneyland. In addition, family members traveled with the employee, and although he was supposed to obtain permission for this before driving to California, he did not do so. UVU has confirmed that the employee was disciplined for these actions.

So why did the employee drive a minivan to California instead of flying; after all, wouldn’t the cost of flying be significantly lower? According to Expedia.com, to travel from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles in April 2011 would have cost about $225 round trip, whereas actual gas purchased for the trip cost a total of $828.24 (see figures below). According to Mike Francis, associate vice president of finance/GRAMA at UVU, the employee had a fear of flying, so his supervisor felt it was appropriate to have the employee drive instead of fly.

Even so, wouldn’t it have made sense for the employee to drive a vehicle with better fuel efficiency than a van? As it turns out, vans make up the majority of UVU’s fleet. Chris Taylor, a spokesperson for UVU, said that the vehicle used would depend on what was reserved for other people on the date the employee left.

So how much did this three-day conference cost Utah taxpayers? We did some fact-checking and submitted a GRAMA request to UVU for the expenses, and here’s what we found out:

  • Gas = $828.24
  • Parking at conference = $11
  • Meal allowance = $180
  • Hotel at Marriott’s Newport Coast= $914.10

TOTAL COST = $1,933.34

Utah taxpayers spent nearly $2,000 to send a single employee to California for a three-day business conference.

In 2010, there were 7,301 state-owned vehicles on Utah roads. Does this make you wonder if anyone else might be abusing the system? If you see the driver of a state-owned vehicle doing something he or she shouldn’t, notify the state. You can use this website to file a complaint.

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3 Responses to Taxpayer tab for UVU employee’s California adventure: $2K

  1. JMBell says:

    Great – Based on this analysis I propose that the Utah Legislative Delegation swim to their Hawaii meeting. Don’t you guys have some gay folks or non-Mormons to go make laws against? Seems odd that you’ve taken the time to run down this little tidbit about an government employee who is afraid to fly, but don’t seem to notice the irony of your terror of non-white, non Christians. 

  2. UVUfan says:

    And your point is???? that the taxpayers paid $2,000 to TRAIN an employee???? whom in turn should be better to serve the tax payers that attend UVU (or their spouse, kids….). What do you think? that knowledge suddenly appears from mid-air? Also, did you even consider that as UVU is an accredited university, that they most likely have to send people to conferences as it is part of the accreditation/re-accreditation process?

    • Matthew Piccolo says:

      The point is that spending $2,000 for a three-day training in California is exorbitant.  Certainly, job training is good and necessary for many state employees, but I hope we can agree that using a state-owned vehicle to go to Disneyland is inappropriate.  Beyond that, spending $828 for gas when a round-trip plane ticket is available for $225 is quite unreasonable.  I understand that the fear of flying is a real problem for some people, but if this particular employee really needed to attend the conference he or she could have rented an economy car from a private company for, likely, $20-30/day using about $100 in gas each way, which totals anywhere from $260-290 for the entire trip.  Just a rough estimate, but you get the idea.

      Further, $180 for meals for three days?  That’s $60/day for meals — quite unnecessary, especially considering that most conferences, at least the ones I’ve attended, include most meals with the conference registration fee.  Finally, $914.10 for three nights in a hotel amounts to $304.70 per night.  Look up the Hotel at Marriott’s Newport Coast and you’ll see why it was so expensive.  I don’t expect state employees to stay in a Super 8, but $100-150 per night would provide more than adequate accommodations for just about anyone.

      By the way, you can very easily take a trip to Europe and visit multiple countries over a period of 1-2 weeks for as little as $1,500 per person, or another $500-1000 more for better travel, food, and accommodations.  I’ve done it several times.  

      The larger point is that state-owned property, and tax dollars, in general, should be used carefully and sparingly.  I like to assume the best of people, and that we are using our public resources efficiently, but when I hear stories like this one I start to become a little skeptical.  Don’t you?

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