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$12,500 for Morgan corrections travel prompts questions

By Sheryl Marsh
smarsh@decaturdaily.com 340-2437

Morgan County Community Corrections Director Alison Nix's proposed $12,500 travel budget tumbled like dominoes Thursday after questions arose.

Travel costs for beach trips don't add up, and county commissioners can't explain the budget. Neither can Nix, who now said she didn't understand how to complete the travel forms.

Nix presented a budget to the County Commission on Wednesday, requesting money for travel to conferences at the Gulf Coast. For one of the trips, Nix showed that travel by car would cost $4,000.

"Obviously something is wrong," said County Commission Chairman John Glasscock. "It would take 10 trips to the beach for transportation to cost $4,000. Maybe, she meant to put $400."

For one trip, Nix wanted $7,500. She gave this breakdown: $2,000 for registration fees, $1,500 for lodging and $4,000 for car travel. This trip was to Perdido Beach Resort. For another trip, she listed herself and two employees. She requested $5,000 to Gulf Shores.

When questioned Thursday, Nix said she probably completed the form incorrectly. She said the travel costs are for the entire year.

"I never had to fill one of these out before, so I put the total for all the case managers and myself for the year," Nix said. "I don't know how many trips to prisons we'll have to make."

Then, Nix pointed to travel line items in her budget, which did not equal the detailed requests of $12,500. She has $4,000 listed for education and training and $4,000 listed for mileage.

"I put $1,000 for each one of us for mileage for the year and the other is for whenever training comes up," Nix said.

She couldn't explain the $4,500 difference between the line items and the travel requests.

"I don't know," she said. "I just told you I filled the form out wrong."

Nix said she would get documentation from state Department of Corrections officials to show a rough estimation of how much the trips would cost.

The Daily talked with state officials about trips for community corrections.

Wally Lowery, director of the state Judicial College, said the trip is from Oct. 24-26. Lodging is $109 per day and registration fees vary. Lowery, who coordinates judicial conferences, said the highest he has seen is $115, but that's not average.

"I don't know until we get the specs for the conference," Lowery said. "It could be $80."

He said the October conference is for Court Referral Officers and community corrections employees may attend, also.

"They tag with court referral officers because it's cheaper," Lowery said.

Generically, Lowery figured that a trip for three people would cost about $2,500.

Eugene Pierce, president of the Alabama Association of Community Corrections and director of Franklin County Community Corrections, said no trips are scheduled for Perdido.

"We do two conferences and we generally conference with court referral people," said Pierce. "Our meeting this past spring was at Joe Wheeler State Park, and we're looking at Guntersville State Park for the next one. We always try to do them at a state park."

Pierce said Perdido representatives contacted the association with quotes, but their lodging is too expensive.

"We don't have anything scheduled for Perdido," Pierce said.

Later Thursday, Nix called The Daily and left a message, changing the amounts and dates of travel. She said she talked with someone at the state Department of Corrections who told her that the trip would be Oct. 30 to Nov 1. Lodging, mileage and food would cost a little over $800, Nix said.

Jeff Williams, director of Alabama Community Corrections, said his department does not host conferences. Williams said AOC is putting on the conference at Perdido, which Lowery confirmed.

Glasscock, who is also chairman of the Morgan County Community Corrections and Court Services Commission, said Nix's budget first has to be approved by the board and only then would the County Commission consider it for approval. Glasscock said Nix's budget for the commission was an estimate that meant nothing.

District 4 Commissioner Stacy George, who criticizes his colleagues' travel, said he plans to talk with the corrections board about Nix's travel.

"Nothing has been approved," said George. "I don't know how much they need to travel. There are a lot of other folks in the same boat."

District 1 Commissioner and Chairman Pro Tem Jeff Clark said he feels that Nix should come before the commission again.

"Certainly, if she has a discrepancy and cannot explain it she needs to be ready to," Clark said.

Lawrence County officials said last month that Nix is under investigation involving missing funds from Hatton Youth League Inc. Paula Bashaam, attorney for the organization, said that between $10,000 and $30,000 appears to be missing from the youth league bank account.

Nix said she is innocent and her attorney said she has passed a lie detector test.

No further details have been released about the probe.

The commission plans to meet Tuesday to tweak budgets of all departments. Glasscock said the commission would do nothing to Nix's budget until after it is approved by the Community Corrections Commission.

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