ActivePaper Archive $7,741 trip to Italy - Hobbs News Sun, 2016-03-13

$7,741 trip to Italy


• Hobbs officials travel abroad to evaluate pools for new Health, Wellness and Learning Center

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Murphy

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In tough economic times, when city revenues are half what they were a year ago, three City of Hobbs officials rang up a $7,741 bill to travel to Italy to evaluate a pool system for the planned Health, Wellness and Learning Center.

However, Myrtha Pools, which the city officials went to visit, has distribution centers in the United States and has, according to their website, installed pools similar to the three the city is looking at purchasing as nearby as Phoenix and Golden, Colo.

City Manager J.J. Murphy, parks and recreation director Doug McDaniel, and general services director Ronny Choate traveled to Italy in late January and early February to evaluate three Myrtha swimming pools for the $61 million Health, Wellness and Learning Center. Their trip cost $7,741.50, most of which went to airfare and hotel expenses. Murphy and McDaniel left for Italy on Jan. 30 and Choate left on Feb. 1. All three returned on Feb. 5.

The News-Sun requested copies of the travel expenses for the trip. Those expenses did not include per diem or food expenses, and, according to Murphy, most meals were paid for out of pocket, although Mayor Sam Cobb said some were provided by Myrtha.

Several contractors on the project — including DRS, ETS, DTS, Water Tech and Hayden Building — also traveled to Italy, but their expenses were not covered by the City of Hobbs.

Representatives from the J. F. Maddox Foundation, Hobbs Municipal Schools and New Mexico Junior College were invited but did not go.

Most of the time in Italy was spent in Castiglione delle Stiviere where Myrtha Pools is headquartered. Murphy and McDaniel also visited the headquarters of fitness equipment manufacturer Technogym to evaluate some equipment for the center.

City officials say the decision to send city staff to Italy to evaluate the pool system was a responsible one.

“I think it was (a fiscally responsible decision),” Cobb said. “We had the discussion regarding the trip last fall with the architects and the design team. The aquatics portion is the most complex portion of the building.”

Cobb said it was also one of the most expensive parts of the building.

“We wanted to ensure that we had city staff that would be familiar with the system and see these pools in operation and have a chance to sit down and talk with the manufacturer,” he said. “As a result, they gained a lot of information. They found out some things about the way to operate and the way to construct that I think are going to save us money on the construction side.”

“It gives us some institutional knowledge,” he added. “I think they learned some things based on the conversations we’ve had since they came back.”

Murphy said those that went to Italy are now recommending Myrtha pools for the center, but that it would have to go through a bidding process. He also said the city had looked at other Myrtha pools in the U.S. before going to Italy. The News-Sun was unable to learn how much was spent on visiting Myrtha pools in the United States by press time.

“All this came about from the quality of life committee,” said Commissioner Garry Buie. “They’ve had several meetings. At one of the meetings it came up that the company out of Italy wanted some people to come and look at the facility and give them their wants and needs, and so that’s where all that came from. Along with the committee, NMJC was in favor of it. The Maddox Foundation and Hobbs Schools were all in favor of sending some people up there. Really that’s why they were sent, and I think, hopefully, we’ll get a quality swimming pool in the Health, Wellness and Learning Center.”

Buie added that the trip had not been formally approved by the commission.

Cobb said the city manager’s travel has to be cleared by the mayor, and other department heads’ travel has to be cleared by the city manager. Any other employee’s travel first goes through their department head.

According to Murphy, travel seldom has to go through the commission.

“The commission did not take any formal action on that trip, nor do they on the majority of my other trips,” he said.

Hobbs Commissioner Joe Calderon and Commissioner Jonathan Sena both said they felt the trip was worthwhile.

“That was already put in the budget. That was already done,” Calderon said. “The trip and all that was already included. We were getting to do the $61-$62 million project. It was already there. In the long run there was going to be some savings.”

In addition to saying that the trip was funded as part of the city’s initial buy-in into the Health, Wellness and Learning Center project, Sena also voiced his support.

“Over the last four years, we have worked on this project to make sure that it meets the public needs for recreation in a financially responsible fashion,” he said. “This means it has to be financially responsible in the development element and in the recurring cost element. Mayor Cobb and J.J. have done an incredible job in making sure this development is financially feasible and responsible over the long term. Any element of the project and the corresponding research are connected to a painstaking, painstaking process to ensure this.”

“I wish the pools were made in Seminole, and we could go over there,” he said in regards to the cost of travel.

“The architects have given some recommendation as far as the pools,” Sena said of the planned complex, “so we need to make sure it’s right and sustainable over the long term for our grandkids and great-grandkids.”

Charlie Benton can be reached at 575-391-5434 or reporter1@hobbsnews.com.

‘I think it was
(a fiscally responsible decision). We had the discussion regarding the trip last fall with the architects and the design team. The aquatics portion is the most complex portion of the building.’
Sam Cobb
Hobbs mayor