County Judge Dolores Briones won approval from Commissioners Court to attend a three-day personal development seminar starting today in New York City, but the trip is drawing a new round of potshots aimed at her travel habits.
The $1,500 seminar is being conducted by Contegrity, an organization whose two founders hail from Landmark Education Corp., which has ties to Werner Erhard and Associates and the Erhard Seminars Training, better known as "est."
Est and Erhard were at the epicenter of the New Age human potential movement of the 1970s.
Briones, who attended a Contegrity seminar in Austin last November at county expense, concedes that the programs are about personal growth but says they are effective as executive training.
"It has allowed me to create things I wasn't able to create before, like Strong Families, Strong Future," she said, referring to the centerpiece initiative of her administration. "I go looking for something that will get me thinking outside the box."
In addition to the $1,500 tuition, the trip is likely to cost the county at least another $1,000 for travel and expenses. The theme of the seminar is "Intentionality and Power -- Flexibility and Perseverance in Causing Life's Fulfillment."
When county watchdog Ray Gilbert lambasted Commissioners Court for allowing such travel at public expense last week, Commissioner Dan Haggerty backed Briones, saying, "I don't have a problem with your going, Judge."
The usually frugal Republican told Briones she has the right to spend her travel budget as she pleases. He then voted in favor of the county paying for the seminar.
Haggerty's views on the matter, however, have changed this week.
Other elected officials may have used their travel and training budgets to attend nontraditional training, but Briones' constant absence has made her travel an issue, Haggerty said.
"I would hope (other officials) haven't gone to things like this," he said. "But to be perfectly honest, it's up to the discretion of the elected official."