GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) - A Glendale city council member took more than a dozen trips over three years at taxpayers’ expense, spending nearly $25,000.
Councilman Sammy Chavira has taken 13 out-of-state trips on the taxpayer’s dime since taking office in January 2013, according to the Arizona Republic (https://bit.ly/1TwepC2). The paper reported that he racked up a $24,307 bill for airfare, room service, hotel stays and meals, including a $420 seafood dinner.
Glendale annually allots thousands of dollars for travel to each council member, but the city’s travel policy says it is only to be used for “clear business needs” that benefit the city.
Chavira told the Republic by email that he made the trips for the city.
“I made these trips on behalf of the city for legitimate purposes - to pursue economic development opportunities; to cement valuable relationships; to help improve Glendale public safety and to secure our city’s share of federal funds and grants,” he stated in the email.
Some of Chavira’s trips were to visit his friend U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego in Washington, D.C, including a trip for the Democrat’s inauguration. A second expensed trip to the capital was to watch a broadcast of the pope’s address to Congress at Gallego’s invitation.
“While my trip to Washington, D.C., in 2015 included attending the pope’s appearance in the Capitol, this was not just ‘a trip to see the Pope,’” Chavira said. “My agenda for that trip included multiple meetings focused on using firefighters to impact the prevalence of sex trafficking and to help victims of sex trafficking.”
Those meetings were with Gallego and U.S. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, an Arizona Democrat. Gallego’s assistant confirmed Chavira met with the congressman to speak about local issues. Sinema’s assistant said Chavira did not have an official meeting, but they did talk briefly on the day of the pope’s visit.
Glendale allots each council member $18,000 annually for expenses. Council members are in charge of managing their own budget, but Vice Mayor Ian Hugh said elected officials need to be ready to defend their spending.
“The council has a lot of leeway how they spend it, but you then have to answer to the public on the rationale why,” he said.
Ken Strobeck, executive director of the League of Arizona Cities and Towns, said cities use different guidelines to define what constitutes a legitimate business trip. The league represents municipalities before the state legislature.
“I take kind of a biased view on this. I think a lot of people say, ‘Oh, you shouldn’t be traveling,’” Strobeck said. “You don’t find a whole lot of wisdom just if you go into the same office every day and don’t ever get any outside ideas.”
Information from: The Arizona Republic, https://www.azcentral.com
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