Durham promises transparency after investigation of travel expen - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Durham promises transparency after investigation of travel expenses


Changes are being made at Iowa's Economic Development Authority in the wake of an investigation done by a Des Moines TV station.

The story, done by WHO-TV, focused on the amount of money spent on travel by the department's director, Debi Durham, alleging she abused her travel expense, flew first class on the taxpayers dime, and spent more than her counterparts in neighboring states.

"Sales is about relationships," Durham said. "I am not paid to sit behind a desk in Des Moines." In fact, Debi Durham says her job-- which she's described as the "chief salesperson for the state"-- keeps her on the road 80% of the time in a given year. A stat she knew before she took the job in 2010. "And, what it came down to was I'm gonna be on the road for 4-years,"  Durham said.

Durham says travel takes her all over the state. "I need to be able to make the connections and networks for existing companies because 80% of growth comes from within." And, around the globe. "Kosovo, Italy, Spain, Brazil, India, China..."

As to the allegations about flying first class, we looked at her booked travel itinerary, she purchased business class as the state requires. "This is grueling, which is why we fly business class over the ocean," Durham said. "A state policy that's been in place for decades, and the reason is that we're expected to perform as soon as we land."

A business class ticket allows them to make changes last minute to a travel agenda at no additional expense. "The standard protocol from the travel agency is if you book a business class ticket over the ocean, the domestic side of that ticket they will always put in first class. It's standard, You're not paying for first class, it is part of it." Not unusual in travel and she was upgraded to first class on this European trip, but at no cost to the taxpayers.

That particular series of flights to Europe had several stops on the itinerary. One of those was for conference in Hannover, Germany. Durham was accused of not attending the Agritechnica conference but an agenda provided to KTIV shows Durham was never scheduled to. Her international project manager was scheduled to attend the conference, and did. During that time, the agenda shows Durham was making other calls in Paris, Barcelona, and Florence. "When someone is coming in and looking for something, it is very, very clear what occurred here." Transparency is something Durham says her department is working on. "Since this story broke, we have looked at how we do certain things, and we're making changes so that's its very clear what it is we need to do going on," Durham said.

That includes adding more detail to travel sheets that need approval by the state board before Durham leaves on a trip, and have to be filed-- with specific expenses-- when she returns. An important point since Durham's team intends to spends even more on travel next year. "It's because 95% of the customers are outside of the Unites States," Durham said. "Because as we continue to look at new markets-- like Brazil, India, and China-- as they develop middle classes,  you'll see a greater need for Iowa products and commodities."

It's interesting to note that travel for Iowa's governor and lieutenant governor is paid for by funds from a private foundation to avoid using taxpayer dollars. But, Durham says she won't use private funds because the same companies that give money to that private foundation also come before her board for projects. Durham says using their money would be a "conflict of interest."

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