Altoona officials defended a recent three-day trip to a conference in Pittsburgh, after a local resident complained the cost isn't justified for a city in financial distress.
Six city officials - three councilmen, the controller, the city manager and the finance director - attended the Pennsylvania Municipal League's annual convention at an estimated cost of $1,500, according to Controller A.C. Stickel.
"I understand why someone would ask," said Councilman Bruce Kelley. "We're questioning every expense, too."
But ideas gleaned from other members of the organization are "invaluable" and not available through something like a conference phone call, Kelley said.
The benefits far outweigh the costs, Stickel said.
There were discussions of innovative ideas and matters of general concern, educational and leadership development sessions, the setting of legislative priorities, a discussion on sustainable communities and a talk titled "Public Leadership in a Climate of Political Distrust: How to Lead Ethically," according to the website.
Attendees found out about efficient purchasing practices and efficient infrastructure maintenance, Kelley said.
They also discovered that the city's excellent relationship with Penn State Altoona isn't far better than the relationships of some other Pennsylvania cities with their colleges, according to Kelley.
The convention encourages networking, which helps cities lobby on issues like the state's Act 47 Distressed Municipalities Program, according to Kelley and City Manager Joe Weakland.
Such lobbying helped induce the General Assembly last year to back off a radical revision of the Act - in response to Harrisburg's massive financial problems - that would have placed cities that entered the Distressed Municipalities Program into a kind of receivership, officials said.
Municipalities need to be part of their statewide associations, if only because "so much happens in Harrisburg" that affects them, and to give them easy access to training and best practices on issues like labor contracts and economic development, according to Deputy Executive Director Rick Schuettler.
For several years in the early 2000s, Altoona was not a member of the league, said Mayor Bill Schirf.
"We were out there by ourselves," Schirf said.