I guess when you live in hardscrabble northeastern Pennsylvania–especially the area around Easton–any trip to Las Vegas by government workers on the public dime can look suspect. Amy Trapp, the HR director of Northampton County, Pa., of which Easton is the county seat, is on the hot seat for $2,343 spent by two of her workers to fly to Las Vegas, stay at the fancy Mirage Resort on the Las Vegas Strip and attend a training seminar.
Although it doesn’t seem that any rules were broken, the trip has caused a political brouhaha far from Las Vegas. So I’m nominating Trapp for my new list, It Didn’t Stay Here. The list–a play on that great Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority marketing slogan, “What Happens Here, Stays Here“–consists of folks having problems somewhere else for things that happened in Vegas. Earlier nominations can be found elsewhere on this page.
The Easton situation surfaced in late April when Northampton County Controller Stephen Barron sent a report to the Northampton County Council reporting that the budget for staff development in the Department of Human Resources, which Trapp heads, had gone up 987% from $5,749 in 2015 to $57,758 in 2016. (As the Allentown Pa. Morning Call noted, Barron’s math calculations were off, never a good thing for a numbers guy: The increase was actually 887%.) One expenditure Barron highlighted was a trip by two workers for two nights in Las Vegas in October 2016 to attend a training conference for an online job application system called NeoGov.
“Conferences like this are meant more for networking and less about training,” Barron wrote. “This conference was not so much about training and seems to be excessive if not outright abusive. The total cost for the airfare, conference fees and hotels was $2,434.32. This total does not include meals. This seems excessive when the Department of Defense only allows $102 max for a hotel and a $166 dollar per diem total in Las Vegas.” Barron, who also criticized a trip to New Orleans, called for a new policy requiring that all trips of more than 100 miles receive prior approval from the County Council.
At a County Council meeting earlier this month, Trapp showed up after recovering from a car crash to justify the cost. She said Las Vegas was the only place to get training for NeoGov. One news account quoted her as saying her deputy director and the person who runs the system had never been properly trained when the system was installed in 2015.
Prior to the meeting, one council member, Bob Werner, was quoted as saying, “We can’t send someone to the Best Western?” According to a blog post, Trapp was questioned at the meeting about whether she really had shopped around for the best hotel price in Las Vegas, the thinking apparently being that there was better value than staying at the pricey Mirage. It seems that Trapp offered an explanation, although I couldn’t find an account of it.
There does appear to be a heady political whiff to all this. Controller Barron, who is separately elected, is a Democrat, while the county administration and a narrow majority of the Council Council are Republican. At the meeting, one Republican council member, Mathew Benol, said Barron was spreading “fake news” about Trapp, who was relatively new to the job.
The next election in Northampton County will be in November. I’m thinking that might be one reason why Barron wrote in his report, “The next NeoGov User Conference is at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in October of 2017. It is my hope that Council can work to convince the County Executive that sending people this year would be a waste of taxpayer money.”
As someone New To Las Vegas, I wouldn’t bet–as they like to do here–on another government-paid trip from Easton to here just before an election. But stay tuned for a follow-up.