Rutherford trip lodging becomes GOP campaign issue

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 14, 2014 at 1:30 pm •  Published: February 14, 2014
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An AP review of Rutherford's travel expenses showed that in a number of instances he billed taxpayers, at least initially, for the joint travel. During his interview with AP, the treasurer's answers changed when asked how often he'd shared rooms with Lanning: first confirming the practice, then saying it never had been on state business, then citing two trips — to Washington D.C. and New York, where hotel rooms can cost several hundred dollars per night.

The AP's review of documents showed there actually was a second state-paid trip to New York where Rutherford and Lanning shared a room. And Rutherford traveled three other times in 2011 and 2012 — to Peoria, Bloomingdale and Champaign/Danville — when he billed the state for a room shared with Lanning. Some of the trips initially were reported to help promote a state property-recovery program called I-Cash, but the internal review found the travels to be political in nature and the state was reimbursed.

Travel records show another joint stay in September 2011 at a hotel near Chicago's O'Hare International Airport that was booked for state business, though later determined to be political. The event was canceled, but Rutherford and Lanning still stayed in the room and it was billed to the state.

Treasurer's office spokeswoman Mary Frances Bragiel said expense reviews are standard practice. Campaign spokeswoman Judy Pardonnet said going back over spending showed Rutherford was diligent.

Rutherford rejects criticism that he blurs the lines between government and political activities. But political experts say sharing a room with a subordinate and confusion over billing the state for campaign events leave him open to scrutiny.

"I think it shows a lack of judgment, at the very least," said Mike Lawrence, former director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. "A supervisor should maintain distance from his or her subordinates. It's just not good managerial practice to get too close to subordinates."

Human resources experts say employees sharing rooms isn't generally a good idea. The Society for Human Resource Management, in guidelines to human resources professionals, warns of consequences of room sharing, such as "lower employee morale, higher turnover and decreased productivity than the savings realized."

Business experts say sharing with bosses could create an uneasy power dynamic.

"If your boss is saying, 'we need to do this,' it's hard to say no," said Stuart Bunderson, who teaches leadership development at the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. "This is bordering on something that creates an environment that, at a minimum, is uncomfortable."

At a news conference this week, Rutherford defended the practice, saying supervisors and subordinates sharing rooms is something common to small business, and even in the National Hockey League and National Football League.

But NHL spokesman Frank Brown said that if players share rooms, it's with other players, not coaches. Employees in the NFL's league office stay in separate rooms when traveling, spokesman Greg Aiello said. Teams have their own travel policies, he said, but most if not all have players share rooms with each other on road trips.

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Associated Press writers Sara Burnett in Chicago and John O'Connor in Springfield contributed to this report.



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