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Beaver County Housing Authority leaders have taken dozens of glamorous out-of-state trips

Beaver County Housing Authority leaders have taken dozens of trips out of state
Beaver County Housing Authority leaders have taken dozens of trips out of state 04:23

BEAVER, Pa. (KDKA) -- It's their job to oversee public housing in Beaver County, but KDKA Investigates finds the executive director and board members of the county housing authority spend an awful amount of time and money out-of-state.

KDKA-TV lead investigator Andy Sheehan found they've taken dozens of trips to glamorous destinations and upscale hotels and conference centers around the county. 

Is the taxpayer getting much bang for all of those bucks? 

They're luxurious trips on the taxpayer's dime: airfare and stays at swanky hotels in exciting destinations: Palm Springs, San Diego, New Orleans, Atlantic City and Chicago.

In the past two years, Kathryn Walter, the executive director of the Beaver County Housing Authority, and her board members have become frequent fliers.

Sheehan: "Do you believe that the taxpayer or the tenants of the housing authority are benefiting from these meetings?" 

Walter: "I'm responding back to the right to know with all of the information that was requested."

Since becoming director 16 months ago, Walter has attended more than 20 different conferences, some in-state at places like Seven Springs, but mostly around the country in upscale hotels and conference centers in major cities.

By KDKA-TV's counting, she's spent more than 50 days out-of-town and spent thousands in airfare, hotels, registrations and per diems -- and several board members too. In the past two years, they've oftentimes tagged along, traveling to New Orleans, San Diego twice, Fort Myers and then Cape Coral, Florida, Orlando twice and Palm Springs -- not to mention several in-state conferences.

Calendar shows trips and who attended: 

KDKA Investigative Producer Tory Wegerski created this graphic using data compiled from publicly available Housing Authority of Beaver County board meeting agendas beginning in October of 2021.  

KDKA-TV filed a right-to-know request with the Beaver County Housing Authority asking for a detailed accounting of the money spent, but in its initial response, the housing authority has sought a delay to consider if it is legally bound to deliver that information.

Meanwhile, Walter denied KDKA-TV's request for an interview, so we came to the authority's monthly board meeting to ask why she and her board go to so many conferences while other housing authorities stay home.

Sheehan: "I've checked with other housing authorities and none of their executive directors or their board members are taking anywhere near the number of trips that you are."

Walter: "I think when you receive the right to know request, that you'll see what I've taken."

Citing mounting costs and limited value in the conferences, housing authorities in the surrounding counties said they have very tight travel budgets. While some said their executive directors may attend a handful of conferences during a given year, most say their board members don't attend any. One said the money is better spent providing better services to their residents. Not the case in Beaver County.

Sheehan: "You've gone to New Orleans, you've gone to Palm Springs, you've gone to San Diego, Chicago. What benefit is this to your tenants?" 

Walter: "I will not respond. Thank you."

Then KDKA-TV asked the board members themselves.

Sheehan: "It's not a legal question. It's a question of policy and whether people are benefitting. Can't you respond to that in sort a general way?" 

Board member Michael Lacey: "We go to these conferences so we're educated on what we can and can't do."

"We're spending a lot of money, our taxpayer's money. We represent the taxpayer as commissioners. We need to be educated to do our job properly and that's the reason why we go," Lacey responded. 

But there have been so many trips to so many different destinations, you have to question just how much the director and the board members are getting from these conferences and whether the taxpayers and the residents are benefitting. 

It also raises a question of oversight. The board members are supposed to be a check on expenses, but they seem to like going on these trips.

KDKA-TV producer Tory Wegerski contributed to this report.

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