The Mecklenburg County Area Mental Health Agency spent more than $14,000 to send seven people to a conference on treating people with developmental disabilities – in Hawaii.
Area Mental Health Director Grayce Crockett defended the trip.
“I don't think the question would be asked if these people had gone to Mississippi or Alabama,” Crockett said. “The site of the conference was really irrelevant.”
The contingent stayed at the Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki. Expense reports obtained by NewsChannel 36 under an N.C. Public Records Law request show taxpayers paid $189 per person per night.
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Airfare cost about $1,000 per person.
Crockett says she remains comfortable with the spending.
Two of the seven people who went to the conference weren't even public employees. One was an outside contractor, a mental health provider.
Another was a client with developmental disabilities who receives services through the county.
Crockett explained the rationale behind sending a client by saying, “We funded a consumer because everything we do needs to be consumer driven.”
Documents attached to the expense reports show the International Conference on Diverse Abilities and Innovative Supports lasted three days, Monday through Wednesday, with three seminars scheduled each day at an hour and 15 minutes each.
At the end of the conference five of the seven people who attended stayed in Hawaii at their own expense.
“We did not spend one additional dollar for them to stay on,” Crockett said.
Adam Searing of the North Carolina Justice Center, who lobbies for funding for people with mental illness, criticized the spending.
“Sending people to Hawaii just doesn't make any sense to me at all,” he said. “I've lobbied for better health care for folks in North Carolina for over a decade and it's this kind of stuff that just seems outrageous.”
Mental health agencies in Wake and Forsyth counties sent no one to the conference.