Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida's elder affairs chief racks up $69,000 in travel expenses

TALLAHASSEE — Florida's elder affairs chief has racked up nearly $70,000 in travel bills in less than three years, much of it by driving his car between the capital and Orlando, where Douglas Beach owns a home and where his wife lives.

But his colleagues around the state say the cost is worth it: They praise Beach for being accessible and well informed.

Beach, secretary of the Department of Elder Affairs, has been reimbursed $69,000 since 2007, including $32,000 for nearly 72,000 work-related miles driven in his Ford Explorer. That's the equivalent of circumnavigating the globe nearly three times.

"One of my requirements in federal law as well as in state statute is to be the chief advocate for seniors in the state of Florida," Beach said. "And I don't think you can do that behind a desk in Orlando or Tallahassee."

Beach, who earns $120,000 a year, ran Orlando's aging agency before taking the state job. He oversees a budget of about $700 million and said his travel helps him connect with 11 regional area agencies on aging that contract with the state to provide meals, in-home care, transportation and other services to Florida seniors.

"He's been accessible," said Max Rothman, director of the Area Agency on Aging in Miami, who estimated that Beach has visited his agency four to six times this year. "Generally, I think he's tried to make the department responsive."

Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, a member of the Senate budget committee that oversees Elder Affairs, said Beach is knowledgeable and reliable. "You have confidence in the information that he's giving you," Rich said. "He knows his job."

Sally Gronda, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging for Pinellas and Pasco counties, also praised Beach's communication and accessibility. "I think he's really doing a very good job," Gronda said. "I have his cell phone programmed into my cell phone."

Beach, 50, who jokingly calls himself a "recovering economist" and has a doctorate in economics from North Carolina State, is a former deputy director of Ohio's elder affairs agency.

He's the second top-tier appointee in Gov. Charlie Crist's administration whose commuting reflects a pattern of travel between Tallahassee and a city where he owns a home, with weekend stays at the home subsidized by taxpayers.

Juvenile Justice Secretary Frank Peterman has charged taxpayers $44,000 in official travel, including nearly $20,000 for regular commercial air flights between Tallahassee and Tampa. Peterman's wife and four children still live in St. Petersburg, where Peterman preaches Sundays at the Rock of Jesus Missionary Baptist Church.

Travel vouchers show that on more than 80 occasions, Beach spent at least some time in Orlando, near his Winter Springs home. He said he also rents an apartment in Tallahassee.

As a comparison, Peterman has averaged about $1,800 per month in travel expenses, while Beach has averaged $2,100 per month during his 33-month tenure.

With the state mired in a severe budget crunch, the Legislature instructed state departments to allow travel only "critical to each agency's mission." Two weeks ago, Crist's chief of staff reinforced that point in a memo to all agency chiefs, with a reminder that "every effort should be taken to limit the costs of such mission-essential travel."

About half the time, records show, Beach used Orlando as a staging area for work-related visits to South Florida, Tampa Bay or the Jacksonville area. The rest of those trips included events only in the greater Orlando area and nearby Brevard County.

Beach said he travels so much so he can visit the Area Agency on Aging in several high-population counties south of Interstate 4, including Pinellas, Hillsborough, Fort Myers, Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade.

"Any time I'm going down that way, it goes through Orlando," Beach said. To avoid costly hotel stays, he added, "I'll pass through Orlando, I'll stay at home, and then I'll go to South Florida."

Beach said a Crist aide suggested he rent cars more often to save money. But he said a scary experience in a small car after a hurricane in 2008 changed his mind.

"I hydroplaned," Beach said. "Scared the bejesus out of me. So what I drive is a four-wheel-drive Explorer. I'm losing money. … But it's safe, and I feel like I can get to my appointments."

Crist has ordered his inspector general to conduct a review of Peterman's travel, but he has declined to say whether Peterman exercised good fiscal judgment.

As for Beach's travel, Crist said: "Before we pass judgment, we have to have the opportunity to review what those expenditures are about."

Herald staff writer Beth Reinhard contributed to this report. Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Florida's elder affairs chief racks up $69,000 in travel expenses 11/28/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 1, 2009 6:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rays send down Chase Whitley, Andrew Kittredge; add Chih-Wei Hu, acitvate Alex Cobb

    Blogs

    After having to cover more than five innings following a short start by Austin Pruitt, the Rays shuffled their bullpen following Wednesday's game, sending down RHPs Chase Whitley and Andrew Kittredge,

    The Kittredge move was expected, as he was summoned to add depth to the pen Wednesday in advance of RHP Alex …

  2. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred moves closer to wanting a decision on Rays stadium

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred called Wednesday for urgency from Tampa Bay area government leaders to prioritize and move quicker on plans for a new Rays stadium.

    MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred talks with reporters at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
  3. Six home runs doom Rays in loss to Blue Jays (w/video)

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — A curve that didn't bounce was the difference Wednesday as the Rays lost 7-6 to the Blue Jays in front of 8,264, the smallest Tropicana field crowd since Sept. 5, 2006.

    Tampa Bay Rays shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (11) greets center fielder Kevin Kiermaier (39) at the plate after his two run home run in the third inning of the game between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, Aug. 23, 2017.
  4. Jones: Stop talking and start building a new Rays stadium

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — It was good to see Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred at Tropicana Field on Wednesday, talking Rays baseball and the hope for a new stadium somewhere in Tampa Bay.

    Commissioner Rob Manfred is popular with the media on a visit to Tropicana Field.
  5. Ousted to political Siberia by Corcoran, Kathleen Peters sets sights on Pinellas Commission

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — The perks of power in Tallahassee are a coveted chairmanship, a Capitol office in a prime location and a prominent seat on the House floor. Now Rep. Kathleen Peters has lost all three, but here's the twist: Her trip to "Siberia" might actually help her reach the next step on the Tampa Bay political …

    Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, has been relegated to the back row in the State House chamber, moved to a fouth floor office and stripped of her job as chairwoman of a House subcommittee after a series of disagreements with House Speaker Richard Corcoran. [SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times]