Ah, the perks of being an Orlando public official. You get a comfy office on the second floor of City Hall, overlooking busy downtown streets. You get a nice office assistant, a $36,000 salary, a daily police companion and the use of a city-owned pager.
You also get a travel budget and a $9,500 pot of money from which you can write checks for just about anything you wish. Commissioner Daisy Lynum, for example, spent $60 to attend the Jones High School alumni ball at Christmastime last year. She spent another $100 for two tickets to a benefit luncheon hosted by the Frontline Outreach social agency. She spent $1,000 to host a dinner for members of the Florida Black Caucus last November at Pierre's Steakhouse. She bought a corporate table for $400, good for 10 people, to the "Sisters Take Care of Your Health" seminar in April. She even spent $366.50 to send flowers to seven constituents who died in her district.
Those expenses might be no big deal except for the fact that the last budget cycle, which ended Sept. 30, was the most brutal the city has ever seen. The city announced Jan. 27 that it was running an $11 million deficit -- a figure later revised to $23 million, prompting Mayor Buddy Dyer to lay off about 200 employees. Lynum was the most vocal council member in chastising Dyer for the callow manner in which the firings were conducted.
But Lynum overshot her own allocated budget by more than $9,000, according to budget expenditure comparisons posted on the city's website. Only two other commissioners overspent their budgets -- Betty Wyman and Ernest Page -- but only by several hundred dollars. Indeed, Page spent money from his discretionary fund on some of the same charity events Lynum did, including the Jones High ball and a senior citizen Christmas celebration hosted by the RAFMAN Club.
Yet Lynum appears to have traveled more than Page. She attended a three-day seminar at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government last November. She flew with Commissioner Patty Sheehan to Salt Lake City. And she sent her aide, Officer Danny Vereen, to Atlanta to attend a Florida Crime Prevention Training Institute seminar.
Lynum was unavailable for comment Tuesday as the Weekly went to press. But she could take a few tips from Orlando's most frugal commissioner, Phil Diamond. Diamond, an attorney and certified public accountant, did drop a few bucks on public welfare organizations such as Harbor House, a shelter for battered women. But he didn't spend a dime of his $4,000 travel budget. And for those people in his district unfortunate enough to expire during these tight budgetary times, Diamond either paid for flowers out of his own pocket or sent a card instead.