Board Leaders Silent on Details of Unauthorized Atlanta Trip

Nearly two months after a pair of Fairfield County School Board members independently made excursions to Atlanta to attend a conference on bullying, questions continue to surface about the propriety of the trip. Indeed, during the public comment portion of the Board’s Aug. 7 special called meeting, Thomas Armstrong brought the trip back into the light with a public Freedom of Information Act request for records of the trip, including the rental of an SUV and hotel costs.

That Andrea Harrison, Board Chairwoman, escorted four female students to the conference at the Atlanta Hilton hotel June 28 – 30 without Board approval is a matter of record. Harrison has since apologized for allowing the matter to “slip through the cracks.” Harrison told The Voice last month that the District’s social worker rented an SUV for the trip and Harrison used her District mileage to provide gas.

Documents obtained by The Voice show that Harrison was issued a check for $623.37 by the District on June 21. The total amount included $300 for Harrison’s per diem, $84 for parking and $239.37 for mileage. Documents show Harrison returned $72.77 of her unused mileage funds to the District on July 2, indicating $166.60 in gasoline was pumped into the rented SUV.

The rental of the SUV has also raised questions.

Sources told The Voice in July that Harrison had sought to obtain a District bus for the trip, but was denied by the Director of Transportation when he learned that the Board had not approved the outing. Harrison said that was not true.

“It was not that we couldn’t get a bus,” Harrison said last month, “but that a bus was not cost effective. We only had four students going on the trip.”

According to District documents, the District paid $1,123.60 for the rental of the SUV. The documents do not, however, indicate where this SUV was obtained. The District’s credit card statement for July, on the other hand, shows $1,123.60 was paid to Hertz Rent-A-Car of Columbia. That transaction posted on July 3.

Research by The Voice, meanwhile, has found three other car rental agencies where a similar vehicle could have been rented for less money. In fact, Hertz in Columbia actually quoted a price of $819.86 for an identical vehicle for a five-day round trip to Atlanta with a full insurance package and 700 miles.

Thrifty Car Rental in Columbia offered a similar vehicle for $647.50; Enterprise for $738.55. Locally, the District could have rented either an SUV or a minivan from Independent Body and Car Rental for $492.69.

So why did the District pay more than $1,123 to Hertz, and why did Hertz quote The Voice a price that was more than $300 less?

Phone calls and e-mails to Harrison seeking clarification to these points were not returned at press time.

Danielle Miller, Board Secretary, also attended the conference, although not with Harrison’s group. Miller drove a District car to Atlanta and was issued a check for $528.38 by the District on June 21. That total amount included a $225 per diem (Miller was originally only to attend two days of the event), $63 for parking and $240.38 for mileage. An additional per diem check of $75 was issued to Miller June 27 after Miller found she could attend the full conference.

Miller was contacted by phone and by e-mail in order to determine how gas was provided for the District’s car and if any of the $240.38 she received for mileage was returned. Records obtained by The Voice do not show any indication that any of the mileage funds were returned. Reached by phone, Miller asked The Voice to pose its questions in an e-mail. As of press time, Miller had not responded to that e-mail.