Harford County government is paying at least $11,800 for its human resources director, Scott Gibson, to attend a Harvard University executive education program for local government officials.
The program began in Massachusetts on July 8 and will end Friday. Gibson said the cost for the program at the prestigious John F. Kennedy School of Government is roughly equivalent to what would have been paid for him to attend both the Maryland Association of Counties' (MACo) summer conference and the Leadership Maryland program, which he said many local officials typically attend.
Ben Lloyd, Harford County Executive David Craig's deputy chief of staff, said tuition for Leadership Maryland is $7,300 and the cost of registration for MACo is $415 for county representatives, for a total of $7,715.
Lloyd noted MACo attendees can also be reimbursed for lodging expenses, but are urged to make their own living arrangements. Not including lodging expenses, the difference between the two Maryland programs combined and the Harvard program is $4,085.
Lloyd said the cost of Gibson's participation in the Harvard program is coming out of the human resources' budget for training. As head of the department, Gibson's annual salary is approximately $113,000.
When reached by phone Tuesday, Gibson said his participation in the Harvard fellowship, which deals with issues affecting states and local governments, was no different from other professional development undertaken by county employees.
After he applied for Leadership Maryland, Gibson said he was contacted by Harvard about being selected for the university's program for senior executives in state and local government.
"I decided that the program at Harvard was a better investment of funds than the Leadership Maryland [program]," he explained.
Gibson said he is paying all travel-related and out-of-pocket expenses.
"Honestly, I thought this was the one opportunity to do this here," he said. "It was a competitive application process."
Gibson said he joined 79 colleagues from across the country, including his counterparts in Washington, D.C., another Maryland county and Virginia, in learning "a broader set of topics" than what would be offered at the Maryland programs.
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The topics include water and sewer authority, the fire and emergency medical service management issues similar to the ones Harford has been confronting, implementation of new programs and labor relations, he said.
Gibson said he feels strongly about the need for county government to "think like a business" and be nimble, but to do that, county officials have to be willing to invest in programs like Harvard's.
"We want our government to be innovative," he said. "To do that, we need to spend some time thinking and contemplating ideas."
Last year, taxpayers paid more than $20,000 for 17 county officials, four county council members, a council aide and Craig to attend the annual MACO conference in Ocean City held in August, according to information provided by those two offices.
Craig, who owns a summer home in Bethany Beach, Del., did not seek reimbursement for any expenses incurred, nor did his secretary and sister-in-law, Pam DiMauro, according to expense documents provided last year.
The county paid their registration fees of $285 each.
Gibson attended that MACo conference, together with Rob McCord, county attorney; Kathryn Hewitt, treasurer; Aaron Tomarchio, chief of staff; Jim Richardson, director of economic development along with three members of his staff; Ben Lloyd, deputy chief of staff; John Sullivan, deputy chief of staff for agriculture; Mary Chance, director of administration; Tim Whittie, director of public works; Beth Hendrix, director of community services; Arden McClune, director of parks and recreation; and Jane Walker, constituent services.