FRAMINGHAM – District 8 City Councilor Judith questioned how professional development and travel are approved in the municipal government at the last City Council Finance Subcommittee meeting.
Grove said she recently discovered four City of Framingham employees from the Mayor’s department were scheduled to go to the Massachusetts Conference for Women on the same day in December 2019.
Grove said she looked up the 2-day conference online and found workshops regarding personal finance and health.
“Why would the city pay to send four people from the office, which pretty much closes the office, to this kind of a meeting?” Grove asked.
Conference tickets are $199 each. The Conference is 2 days with three events, some of which require additional tickets like the Workplace Summit at $75 and the opening night event at $40.
Although Grove said she could understand people taking time off to attend the conference, she said she does not understand why the City of Framingham, ultimately taxpayers, are paying for the employees to attend during work hours.
“What is the requirement to attend the meeting? Do we have a policy that lists what are the requirements if the city’s going to be paying for it? Do you have to give reasons why it’s going to benefit the city?” Grove asked Human Resource Director Dolores Hamilton, who attended the subcommittee meeting on October 23.
When she talked to human resources about this matter while Hamilton was away on vacation, Grove was given two forms that employees attending conferences must fill out.
One was a form which request permission to be away from work for the day (including detailing any office issues, name of the conference, location of the conference, sponsor of the conference). Employees must also get the signature of their department head.
The second form was the expense record (for things such as meals, lodging, airplane fees, etc.)
Hamilton told Grove, and the other finance subcommittee members, there is no other procedure for approval to go to a meeting or conference aside from department head approval.
“Each department has their own line item for professional development and they determine what is needed,” Hamilton told Councilors.
Hamilton said although she has not looked at the schedule for the Massachusetts Women’s Conference this year, she believes there are typically workshops that address leadership.
However, Grove expressed concern over whether this conference and its programs were directly applicable to the city’s needs.
“I’m really surprised that there’s no requirement that when you come back from a meeting, unless it’s credits (CEUs) and you need them, that you don’t have to justify why you went,” Grove said.
Hamilton said adding these types of policies is something Human Resources can look into, though it is truly up to the division heads what they believe their staff needs expertise in.
For example, Hamilton has a staff person she sent to all worker’s compensation and safety programs. She said that although the staff member was not getting CEU’s, the city will still benefit from what he learned.
“I am very worried that this goes on all the time and that there has never been any oversight,” she said, in regards to conferences, and professional development.
Grove believes that a policy should be put in place by the City’s Human Resources department.
Hamilton said that even if a policy is added by HR, the division head will still have a lot of say in the decision, of who is permitted to attend meetings and conferences.
“I don’t the specific details of every department and what qualifications they require beyond what their hiring qualifications are,” Hamilton told the Councilors.
The City Council Finance Subcommittee meeting ended with the subcommittee requesting a list of money spent from each department on education, Conferences, seminars, and travel.