Three officials in Genesee County, Michigan, took a trip to the Disney Institute for leadership training. So the county's clerk-register, John Gleason, dressed up in a Mickey Mouse costume to protest it.
During a press conference from his office on Wednesday, the man in the mouse suit criticized the county board for approving the trip to the Orlando area, which cost the government roughly $26,000. To drive his point home, Gleason covered his desk with fake money. A woman dressed as Minnie Mouse held some of the fake bills as she stood beside him.
"I have fought as hard as I can fight to make sure that we spend the money in the right way, because it's hard-earned taxpayer money that drives our budget," Gleason said. This trip, by contrast, was simply "another junket on behalf of the taxpayers in Genesee County."
The county's board of commissioners approved the trip last September. Four members of the county's "Culture Club workgroup" were set "to attend the Disney Institute to receive training on leadership, employee engagement, and quality customer service," with the cost for their travel coming "out of the general fund balance." Only three employees ended up attending the five-day trip: County Board Coordinator Josh Freeman, Human Resources Director Anita Galajda, and Planning Commission Director-Coordinator Derek Bradshaw. Sending each official cost roughly $8,750, according to WILX, including $6,500 for the training course itself, $2,000 for lodging and meals, and $250 for transportation.
Freeman defended the trip, suggesting that the Culture Club employees who attended will be better equipped to improve morale at the workplace, and thus overall productivity. "If we can improve the productivity of an employee 3 to 5 percent, you're starting to talk about some pretty big money," Freeman tells a local ABC affiliate. "That's $3 million to $5 million a year in increased productivity because the attitude of the employee changed."
Gleason doesn't agree, to put it lightly: "You think three people can raise the morale of 2,500 people when you have multiple departments? You don't raise morale by taking a trip that [the rest of the county's employees] can't go on."
Freeman said the trip was "paid for with a one-time unclaimed property reimbursement from the state," MLive reports. But Gleason still thinks it was a waste of money. "Instead of having three people benefit from this," he said, "we could have had thousands of people benefit from this" by using the cash to lower county records access costs. "That seems more beneficial to our county and the taxpayers, and the parents of the newborn children."
The county board is set to vote next month on another government-funded trip for county employees, this time to Arizona. That one could cost up to $8,000, WJRT notes.