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Questions surround taxpayer-funded trips for two Baker council members

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BAKER - Concerned citizens questioned two Baker Council Members last night about travel expenses they billed to taxpayers.

Councilwoman Joyce Burges and Councilman John Givens both traveled to Covington last month to attend a council meeting.  They billed taxpayers for a hotel, even though their destination was only about an hour away. Ten days later Givens traveled to Houston, which raised concerns for some citizens in Baker. 

"At the council meeting last night, I asked him what he did for the city of Baker since Baker was paying for it, and he basically told us it was none of our business," Baker resident John Abel said.

Baker Mayor Harold Rideau agrees that the councilman needs to be forthcoming with information about taxpayer-funded trips.

"I think because it's public money he needs to let us know why he went to Houston," Rideau said.

Givens said he would meet us in Baton Rouge at a specific location today, but after hours of waiting he was a no-show. Further calls to coordinate a meeting were unsuccessful.

However, he did tell us that while he was in Houston he met with a woman in charge of economic development for the city. We checked with the name he provided and she confirmed there was a 45-minute meeting for one day.  However, what was done on the other three days to benefit the city of Baker remains a mystery.

"It looks like you're hiding something and that's not a good thing," Rideau said. "It's not something I would have done."

Rideau said he's already implemented changes. Beginning today, no one will be allowed to charge a hotel stay to the city's credit card without his approval first. He's also not ruling out seizing the money back from Givens.

"We can write a letter requesting the money back and if he doesn't, he gets a salary, a monthly check, we'll just hold it out of his check," Rideau said.

That is welcome news for neighbors like Abel, who want the best for Baker.

"That's my money," Abel said. "The city of Baker's money. They should be accountable for that."

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