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OFFICIAL'S TRIP TO BUDAPEST IS VALID PUBLIC-DEBATE TOPIC

Much is being made about a possible trip by Utah County officials with the state's Winter Olympic contingent to Budapest for the International Olympic Committee's announcement of the host city for the 2002 Winter Games.

When approving its annual budget, the board of the Utah County Convention and Visitors Bureau decided to fund trips to Budapest for bureau director Michael Mack and a county commissioner - likely Gary Herbert.But during a meeting of local legislators about Micron, Rep. Jordan Tanner, R-Provo, decided to make an issue of the trip. Basically, he said Utah County has no justification for sending representatives to Budapest and if they go, they should pay their own way.

The issue isn't this proposed trip, it's all trips by public officials. Federal, state, county and local officials travel regularly - attending conferences, conventions, and checking out this and that.

The value of all these trips, just like the proposed Budapest trip, is debatable. But other than during budget meetings, trips are seldom discussed publicly. Trips are like all expenses - they're at the discretion of the person in charge of that department's budget.

Now the proposed Budapest trip appears to be getting different treatment. Commissioners say they will discuss the pros and cons of the trip at an upcoming meeting and then decide whether one of the three will go.

Because so much public money is spent on travel, and because travel seems to generate controversy, all trips involving substantial expenditures should be discussed and approved individually in public meetings. Before deciding whether a trip's benefits are worth the expense, the objectives and itinerary should be subjected to public scrutiny.

So why does the Budapest trip merit public debate when others get by with an office memo? Because someone with political clout complained. No other reason.

However, two points about Tanner's complaint are worth making. First, Tanner's opinion should hold no more weight than any other Utah County resident. As a resident of Utah County, Tanner has the right to express concern. As a state official, however, he has no say over how the county spends its residents' money - just like county officials can't tell the state how to spend its residents' money. Commissioners don't notify the press every time they disagree with a state expenditure.

Second, if commissioners decide after public input that Utah County would benefit by having representatives in Budapest, then the county should pay for the trip. After all, they would be there representing the county. Suggesting Herbert should pay for the trip himself is ridiculous. Herbert's household is not responsible for paying county expenses. That's not part of the job.