I-Team: Tracking Travel - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

I-Team: Tracking Travel

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Carolyn McKnight Carolyn McKnight
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BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) -

The WAFB I-Team recently tracked travel cost for employees of the East Baton Rouge Parish Parks and Recreation System.

BREC, as the organization is commonly called, is funded by tax payers. The organization's leaders have recently asked for additional funds to help with money issues.

WAFB's I-Team looked at BREC employee travel records from 2010 through the first half of 2012.

One big expense stood out. BREC employees travel to a lot of conferences all around the country, spending large sums of money on airfare, hotel rooms, meals, and tens of thousands of dollars on registration fees for conferences.

Records show $36,040 was spent in airfares, $73,729 in hotels and $61,983 spent on registration fees for conferences.

Carolyn McKnight is the superintendent for BREC. She's only been the head of the organization for part of the time the I-Team looked over BREC's travel expenses.

McKnight was asked if she thought some of travel from the different employees of BREC may have been a bit of excessive.

"I can tell you the training and conferences I have been involved in, have not been," McKnight said.

For the time period in question, three of BREC's high level employees top the list of top travelers.

The employees are BREC's Assistant Superintendent Ted Jack, another Assistant Superintendent Dale Auzenne and BREC Baton Rouge Zoo Director Phil Frost.

As director of the zoo, Phil Frost is well-known and well respected. BREC officials say Frost's travel has led to his high level of respect in that community.

Frost visited many places including: Houston, Shreveport, Phoenix, St. Louis, St. Paul, Chattanooga, Miami, and Palm Springs.

Frost often attends the Association of Zoos and Aquariums conference, including a trip just last month.

A conference promotional video obtained by the I-Team feature many of the activities offered in the Phoenix area around the conference.

Baseball games, rodeos, jet skies, golf, and nice restaurants are among a few of the activities used in the AZA conference video. The video hardly mentions any of the educational activities that will be available at the conference.

This trip cost tax payers $1,500. 

"A zoo is a different animal, McKnight said. "One of the things that I've noticed in my career [is] zoo director's travel. They have to go to different locations, they have to go and see what other people are doing."

McKnight maintains much of the work done at any conference is valuable to BREC and its attempts to maintain the system's accreditation.

"When you're networking with other professionals, you might not be able to get that off of a website, you might not be able to get that off of a telephone conversation," McKnight said.

"How many times is enough? How many times should we go out? We carefully look to see if this conference is going to be a value for the zoo or a value for other areas of BREC before we go."

In the time period the I-Team tracked, assistant superintendent Ted Jack's travels have cost taxpayers almost $14,000.

Jack's travels include a $2,000 trip to management school in West Virginia and $2,000 trip for another conference Oregon.

Assistant superintendent Dale Auzenne's travels cost taxpayers a little more than $9,000.

Some of the other BREC employees attend various conferences at tax payer's expense, add that to their resume and then leave BREC for other opportunities.

Kristi Williams, a former communications director for BREC, went on eight trips for a cost of almost $10,000 and then left BREC for another job.

"I am reviewing everything that we're doing, every place that we've been; asking the questions, McKnight insisted. "I can't say what was excessive in 2010 and 2011, what I can assure the public about today is that I will look very carefully at everything we're doing to make sure that before I put my signature on it, it's necessary."

BREC officials point to places like the new KaBoom Park off Flannery road in Baton Rouge. The park is currently under construction after BREC teamed up with an out-of-state company.

McKnight says had she not be on the road and making connections, the soon-to-be park would never have been a possibility.

"We want to be a leader in this business, and in order to be a leader you need to see where some of the best practices are," McKnight said.

 Copyright 2012 WAFB. All rights reserved.

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