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The state Department of Education has been one of the biggest spenders on meals, averaging more than $612,000 a year on food for meetings. But it’s also one of few that appears to have greatly curtailed such spending to date.
Department spokesman Pete Smith said education officials, including Superintendent Tom Burnham, who took office last year, have realized such spending on meals for meetings is “completely unacceptable.” For fiscal ‘11, the agency spent $387,000, compared with $772,000 for fiscal ‘04. For fiscal ‘12, Smith said, the figure should be even lower.
Smith said the agency has cut out some of its conferences, looked for free or cheap public facilities for gatherings and is trying to use video conferencing, teleconferencing and other technology for meetings.
Smith said training required by federal programs is still being done.
“It didn’t hinder the mission,” Smith said. “… It was a leadership decision.”
Other officials appeared to take umbrage at questions about their food or meeting spending.
Although he declined to be interviewed about the average $103,500 a year his agency has spent on food, Attorney General Jim Hood’s office issued a statement saying such expenditures are for meals during the training he is required to provide law enforcement, judicial employees and prosecutors. It said the spending is from federal money, fines or other special funds, not direct state tax dollars.
“Mississippi is a safer place because of this training and we plan to continue,” the statement said.
Several agency officials noted that the bulk of their spending on meals and conferences comes from federal or other funds.
Forest Thigpen, president of the watchdog group Mississippi Center for Public Policy, bristles at this.
“I am sick and tired of politicians and bureaucrats who treat federal money as if it’s Monopoly money,” Thigpen said. “It’s still taxpayer money.”
via Dining on your dime: Government eats well | The Natchez Democrat.