Plants says costs for trip necessary
Eighteen attorneys from the Kanawha County prosecutor's office spent three days at The Greenbrier in late January for a training session at a cost of about $4,400.
His attorneys are required to take 24 hours of continuing legal education every year to keep their law licenses valid, Prosecutor Mark Plants said.
The West Virginia Prosecuting Attorneys Institute held the three-day training session at the four-star resort on Jan. 23, 24 and 25, Plants said.
Prosecuting attorneys from around the state attended, he said.
Although the total bill amounted to 14 percent of the office's $30,000 travel and education budget, Plants said he tried to hold down the cost.
For example, the office paid $1,603 for gasoline used by the assistant prosecutors who drove to the conference, he said, but many of them traveled in groups.
"I don't know exactly how many car-pooled, but I do know that not everyone drove," he said.
He also did not reimburse his staff members for meals, and that saved the county about $2,070, Plants said.
Most county prosecutors pay for staff meals at the conferences.
"If they were at home, or here in the office working, we wouldn't have paid for their meals," Plants said. "I don't think the taxpayers should have picked that up."
The Greenbrier charged the attorneys $125 per night for rooms during the conference, he said. This is much lower than the typical rate at the state's premier resort, he said.
The Prosecuting Attorneys Institute charged $200 per attorney, Plants said.
"This is a necessary expense for my attorneys to practice law in the state," Plants said. "It's just the cost of doing business."
Typically the conferences are held at places like Stonewall Resort in Lewis County, Oglebay Resort and Conference Center in Wheeling, or Snowshoe Mountain Ski Resort in Pocahontas County, Plants said.
But the trip to The Greenbrier was not out of line with what the conferences typically cost, he said.
"I realize that having this conference at The Greenbrier raises some red flags," Plants said. "But this expense is unavoidable."
"I have to keep my lawyers licensed," he added.
Commission President Kent Carper was not critical of the trip.
He said the cost was not extravagant and the prosecuting attorney must pay for continuing education classes.
Carper has heard some whispered complaints around the courthouse, he said.
"When people say they had it at The Greenbrier, then other people do get upset," Carper said. "But no one seems to get upset when they go to other resorts for training."
Carper added that anyone wishing to pursue the point could do so in the commission office.
"If someone makes a formal complaint, then I'll look at it," he said.
Carper thinks all of the attorneys at The Greenbrier during the conference were there for "good solid reasons."
"I have no reason to believe they weren't," he said.
The county commissioners must approve every elected official's budget.
Plants had $15,000 allocated toward continuing education and $15,000 to travel.