Harvard course for Harford human relations director a drop in the bucket, but still disconcerting [Editorial]

Will the taxpayers of Harford County get their money's worth for paying $11,800 to send the local government's human resources director to Harvard University for what amounts to three weeks of training?

Considering that the basic tuition for an undergraduate student at Harvard is $38,891 for the 2013-14 academic year — not counting room and board or various fees — it's hard to imagine what Harford County will be gaining besides being able to say it has a department head who was trained at the storied institution.

Sure, the program attended by the county's HR director, Scott T. Gibson, from July 8 through 26 was billed as a fine learning opportunity, and it probably was. But was the knowledge imparted in a three-week course in government operations worth what the people of Harford County ended up paying?

There's good reason to believe Mr. Gibson regards the money as well spent, as he was willing to pay travel and lodging expenses out of his own pocket. And clearly the administration of Harford County Executive David R. Craig, which allocated money for the training, regards the expense as money well spent.

Realistically speaking, however, the county government is only likely to derive benefits from any wisdom Mr. Gibson gained over the span of less than two years. After the 2014 election, there will be a new county executive and likely a new cabinet – including a new director of human resources.

In other words, if Mr. Gibson, freshly invigorated from his learning experience at Harvard, makes key changes in county government in the next several months, there's every reason to believe a lot of them won't be in place six months into a new administration.

On the whole, $11,800 is not a lot of money for the county government to spend on staff training and improvement for one of its key leaders. Indeed, as Craig Administration spokesman Ben Lloyd pointed out, Mr. Gibson had been signed up for a local leadership program at a cost of $7,300, but that money instead was put into the Harvard program, as was another $415 the county would have paid for a Maryland Association of Counties registration for the HR director. In all, the county ended up paying an extra $4,085, which is hardly a princely sum compared to the six figure salaries drawn by county department heads.

Spending that much money on the training that cost more most likely because it has the Harvard label is a bit much.

The real issue isn't so much that the county footed the bill for this particular training program, but that it was done in such a way as to make it seem rather routine. On the whole, the county government should be a bit more frugal than this move would seem to indicate.

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