Imagine being paid to take a scenic cruise on a beautiful lake with your family. It would only be a small part of a three day vacation in a popular tourist destination. You could even use valet parking at the fancy hotel where you slept for two nights.
It may sound too good to be true, but last week 230 MODOT employees spent up to three days and two nights in Branson attending the annual conference of Missouri transportation engineers.
We arrived in Branson just before noon on Tuesday. About an hour later we showed up at Branson Landing to videotape more than 50 conference participants, including MODOT administrators, climbing on board the Lake Queen, a large paddlewheeler that can hold more than 100 passengers.
The cruise was part of a package purchased for each MODOT employee. It's safe to say that there are engineers from other government agencies who were probably paid to be there too.
I spotted more than 70 vehicles with state government license plates parked outside the convention center. Most of them paid to park in a parking garage, even though there were plenty of free parking spaces right next to the convention center. Five cars with state government plates used valet parking. MODOT's Chief Engineer Kevin Keith told me that employees will get reinbursed for their parking, even valet parking.
Overall, MODOT employees represented about 1/3 of the participants at the conference. Missouri taxpayers spent at least $150,000 for MODOT employees to attend it if you include their wages.
Kevin Keith defended the trip. He told me that it gave MODOT engineers the chance to earn required credit for their professional licenses. In fact, he said they could potentially earn all of the credit they need to meet ongoing requirements for their licenses at this conference.
We were prepared to use a hidden camera to record some of the activities at the conference, but we didn't need to use it. When we were on the landing we used our standard video camera on a tripod. During the recption at the convention center we photographer Gary Womack held a small camcorder.
Trips like the one to Branson will get even more scrutiny as the economy continues to struggle. We'd like to hear about any questionable government spending, just e-mail me at email@example.com or call News 4 Investigates at 314-444-3344.