City Spends Almost $4,000 in Travel Expenses for Indiana Trip
BY JEFF CLARK
Several months after Lawrence Transit System announced its intention to locate in Columbus and provide a private bus service for city residents, the bus line still isn’t operational. During the April 16 meeting of the Columbus City Council, the council voted 5-1 to cover the travel expenses for Mayor Robert Smith, City Attorney Jeff Turnage, Federal Programs Director Travis Jones and one city council member to travel to Lawrence, Ind., to research the bus service. Ward 1 Councilman Gene Taylor was selected to participate in the trip.
According to Smith’s request for approval, the city paid $630 per person for airfare, $150 per night for lodging at an undetermined amount for food. The almost $4,000 trip used money from the city’s travel budget, which was approved as part of the Fiscal Year 2013 budget.
Although the city was ready to do business with Lawrence Transit in November 2012, a final deal has yet to be reached.
Turnage has said repeatedly the city will have no financial commitment to the bus line and that the city will help by applying for no-match grants. A press release emailed by Turnage said the group met with Lawrence Transit owner Clif Redden and other transportation officials “to discuss various funding sources, the federal regulations applicable to mass transit systems receiving federal funds and alternative transportation services offered by IndyGo.”
Turnage could not be reached for clarification on Wednesday.
Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem, who was originally part of the travel team, said he backed out at the last minute to commit himself to his campaign. But Karriem on Tuesday said he has grown somewhat leery of Lawrence Transit.
“I’m optimistic about us getting a bus service,” Karriem said. “But I don’t know if Lawrence Transit is the company to do this. There are transportation companies here in Columbus. If there is an opportunity to do something homegrown, I’m in favor of that. As far as Lawrence Transit goes, the jury is still out on that.”
Ward 3 Councilman Charlie Box, who voted against the travel costs and verbally sparred with Karriem during the council meeting, said he is not in favor of helping a private company receive federal funding.
“From what I’ve heard about Lawrence Transit, they are a reputable company,” Box said. “But Cliff Redden hasn’t even been to Columbus. I would have liked for him to at least come down here and sit down and talk to us. But it didn’t work like that. I’m not in favor of giving them any money and I’m not in favor of helping a private company receive grant money. This is not how the thing was presented in the beginning.”
Ward 6 Councilman Bill Gavin has been a proponent of the bus line since it was first discussed in September 2012. Gavin, who teaches at East Mississippi Community College’s Mayhew campus, had been in discussions to bring the bus service to Mayhew, a commuter campus. But as the months have mounted with no bus routes or pick-up spots in place, Gavin said he, too, has grown somewhat skeptical of Lawrence Transit.
“In the beginning, I was very hopeful this was going to happen,” Gavin said. “But it seems like they keep dragging their feet. I guess I will vote to support the bus service, but I’m not going to support any city money going to the transportation company.”