Cass officials set Hawaii trip
Two Cass County officials plan to fly to Hawaii next month for a convention that has counties nationwide treading carefully. County representatives in several states, including Minnesota, have backed out or agreed to pay some or all of the cost o...
Two Cass County officials plan to fly to Hawaii next month for a convention that has counties nationwide treading carefully.
County representatives in several states, including Minnesota, have backed out or agreed to pay some or all of the cost of attending the five-day convention of the National Association of Counties.
But Cass County Commissioner Robyn Sorum said she and County Treasurer Charlotte Sandvik will attend the convention in Honolulu because it provides learning and networking opportunities.
"If we're saying we shouldn't go because it's in Hawaii, then we're saying the rest of the conventions aren't important, either," Sorum said.
Sorum attended the conventions in Milwaukee, Phoenix and New Orleans. She said Cass County attendees have come back several ideas, including the Youth Commission.
"That's where you pick up new ideas, and meet people from other states and see if that's what you can apply back here," said Cass County Auditor Mike Montplaisir.
For this convention, airline tickets cost about $800 each, and rooms run about $190 a night, Montplaisir said. It's not that different from other conventions, Montplaisir and Sorum said.
Four county officials attended the national convention in each of the last three years, Sandvik said.
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Three went to a national legislative convention in Washington, D.C., in March, and two have gone during the previous two years, she said.
But attending an event at a vacation destination like Hawaii can be worrisome.
"Everybody kind of cringes when Hawaii gets it," Montplaisir said. "At least it's in the summer and not in January."
Plane fares this year will cost an additional $200 and more time will be required for travel, but other costs are comparable, said Mark Johnson, executive director of the Bismarck-based North Dakota Association of Counties.
Based on figures the association provided to The Forum, a five-day stay for this year's convention could cost $2,225.50.
The convention in Phoenix cost roughly $1,675, and one in Milwaukee cost about $1,710.
The extra cost of the Hawaii convention is one reason Cass County Commissioner Scott Wagner thinks fewer county representatives are going. He has gone to the convention in the past, but instead decided to attend the legislative conference in Washington, D.C., this year.
"Obviously when it's closer, it's easier to send a few more people," he said of the national conference.
About seven North Dakotans are expected to attend the Hawaii convention, Johnson said. Many counties don't send representatives to the meetings.
"We watch the budget pretty close and that's just not in it to go someplace like that," said Traill County Commissioner Scott Larson.
"Maybe we've joked about it."
No one from Richland County will attend, either, said Bryan Flaa, who has served on the County Commission for 61/2 years.
The board has to approve attendance at national conventions, he said.
"I'd have to say I'd have a hard time voting for it, especially in Hawaii," Flaa said.
In Minnesota, 54 people signed up with the Association of Minnesota Counties to attend the convention, though a spokeswoman said that number could change.
No Clay County officials will be attending.
County Commission Chairman Ben Brunsvold said the county hasn't been active in the national association, though he'd like to be.
He went to the legislative conference in Washington, D.C., earlier this year and found it worthwhile.
But he isn't sure if a convention in Hawaii would go over well.
"It would be harder to explain that one," Brunsvold said. "People would kind of wonder whether the vacation aspect wasn't more important than the business aspect. I think it would be really hard to avoid that perception."
That perception is too bad, Johnson said, because officials can gain valuable information and contacts from the conventions.
"It's unfortunate that Hawaii is a victim of its own success in creating a good place to go," Johnson said. "But it's also a good place to do business."
Readers can reach Forum reporter Andrea Domaskin at (701) 241-5556