My Two Cents: Local Travel Tips For BOE Members

My Two Cents is a weekly opinion column from Bethesda resident Joseph Hawkins. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.

Joseph HawkinsDear Board of Education,

Subject: Local travel tips to save money

Thank goodness! You’re coming to your senses and plan to ban overnight hotel stays within a 50-mile radius of Rockville. With acts like this, you might just get your American Express credit card scandals behind you.

Last week for work, I attended a U.S. Department of Education two-day conference at the Washington Hilton Hotel, located in D.C. This is the same Hilton some Board members back in February spent two nights in on the public’s dime. I thought I would share a few tips about how I behaved — all with the intent of being a good steward of (federal) taxpayer dollars and saving money.

1. Sleep in your own bed. With the Hilton being a mere eight miles from my Bethesda home, it never crossed my mind to stay at the hotel.

2. Eat your own food. I ate breakfast each morning before heading out to Hilton. It never occurred to me that someone else should pay for my morning granola. And even though I had several cups of coffee each day — all purchased from the hotel’s coffee shop, I’m not seeking reimbursement. On a normal work day, I would have paid for my own coffee anyway.

3. Explore D.C. and avoid room service. You can walk out of the front door of the Hilton and find a wide variety of restaurants within a one- or two-block radius. One day I walked two blocks east of the hotel and had a great $7 salad (the water was free). The idea that one has to hole up in the Hilton and order room service is ridiculous. Please think about setting some additional ground rules for limits on how much Board members can charge for meals. Such limits would save us taxpayers a lot of money.

4. Avoid valet parking. On the first day of the conference, I rode down to the Hilton with a coworker who lives in Bethesda. My coworker had a trunk full of materials to deliver for some of the meetings, and so taking the Metro wasn’t feasible. When we pulled into the Hilton parking lot — the self-parking one — the posted rate for a 2-24-hour period was clearly labeled: $36. Self-parking was a piece of cake, and we even found several spaces right next to the main lobby elevator. The Hilton offers valet parking for $10 more, but the notion of wasting an additional $10 seemed ridiculous to us.

5. Take Metro when possible. On the second day of the conference, I took Metro down, both ways. Got off at the Woodley Park Metro stop and walked down Connecticut Avenue NW to the hotel. The walk is probably a good mile’s worth, but an easy walk (and we all need some daily exercise). Walking from the Dupont Circle Metro stop is probably a little shorter, but it is uphill.  Regardless, taking Metro down to the Hilton was a time and money saver ($12 dollars for Metro compared to $36 for self-parking).

One final thought: I’m not opposed to Board members attending conferences and getting reimbursed for legitimate business expenses. What I’m interested in is you acting more responsibly, and even with a sense of frugalness, when spending taxpayer dollars. Is this really too much to ask for?

Joseph Hawkins is a longtime Bethesda resident who remembers when there was no Capital Crescent Trail. He works full-time for an employee-owned social science research firm located Montgomery County. He is a D.C. native and for nearly 10 years, he wrote a regular column for the Montgomery Journal. He also has essays and editorials published in Education Week, the Washington Post, and Teaching Tolerance Magazine. He is a serious live music fan and is committed to checking out some live act at least once a month.


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