Outgoing commissioner takes trip on public’s dime; says benefits to county are worth it | News

A commissioner who lost his bid for reelection took a $2,889 trip to a national convention last week using county money, but argues the expense is worth the benefit it can bring to the county.

District 3 Harold Haralson lost the June primary election to fellow Republican challenger, Rusty Grissom, and will vacate his office in January 2023.

The Transcript requested information about the trip expenses and why an outgoing commissioner would attend a county government conference. The following day, a press release was issued on the county’s website and provided to the publication.

With less than five months remaining to his term, Haralson flew out to Aurora, Colorado for the National Association of Counties (NACo) annual conference. He spent $1,536.53 in hotel expenses, $820 for a registration fee and airfare for $533.96.

Haralson said in a prepared statement that he had not yet the time to file a daily expense report, which is capped at $79 per day.

Haralson, who serves on NACo’s veteran committee, said in his statement that it was a “small price to pay.”

“If we can move benefits forward for our veterans both here and around the country, or bring more programs and dollars home for our veterans, the price of a conference is a small price to pay,” he said.

While his press release reads “veterans issues headline NACo conference,” the schedule of events heavily focused on COVID-19 and health, public safety, energy and economic development, among numerous other subjects. The veterans and military services committee held one meeting during the conference. Haralson was not a speaker.

Cleveland County Commissioners instituted the state’s first county veterans coordinator, the statement indicated.

“We have well over 20,000 veterans right here in Cleveland County,” Haralson said. “Our Cleveland County Veterans Coordinator Charlie Neely partners with area agencies to eliminate veterans homelessness and to assist veterans and their spouses to apply for benefits. That idea came out of a NACo conference and it has made a difference in many lives since we started the program here.”

His last NACo conference was a “bittersweet moment” for him, and he intends to fully attend all future meetings through the end of his term, his statement reads.

“I have seen so many elected officials fade away after losing an election, but I am not one to shirk my responsibilities,” Haralson said. “I have remained committed to attending every committee meeting and board meeting possible and will continue to serve out the duration of my term as the duty of my office demands.”

Mindy Wood covers City Hall news and notable court cases for The Transcript. Reach her at mwood@normantranscript.com or 405-416-4420.

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