From the Marquis Reforma Hotel and Spa in Mexico City to the Hotel Frontenac in Paris, San Diego County mayors got around in 2015, collectively racking up about $37,000 in taxpayer-funded travel expenses last calendar year.
NBC 7 requested out-of-county travel expenses for mayors in all 18 cities for 2014, 2015 and 2016. The files can be found by clicking here. We closely examined the records for 2015.
According to its records, the city of Chula Vista provided $12,937.57 for Mayor Mary Salas to take a number of trips in 2015, including travel to Washington, D.C. and Paris for a climate conference. Expenses documented for Salas included a stay at the Hotel Frontenac in Paris. The expenses also included meals at Il Fornaio in Carmel, California, and Au Sabot Rouge in Paris.
Salas said $3,200 of the Paris trip expenses have been reimbursed by the nonprofit World Wildlife Fund. She said the invitation she accepted to a climate conference in Paris was an honor extended to only 14 other mayors in the nation, and her attendance at the conference had tangible benefits to Chula Vista residents.
“The benefit that was derived for the public, of course, was that notoriety. It will allow us to perhaps compete better in grants that are there, and make connections with large foundations that fund certain projects for sustainability,” Salas said in an on-camera interview Tuesday. “I think overall it was not only a privilege, but a benefit for our city.”
San Diego provided records for $8,907 in travel expenses for Mayor Kevin Faulconer in 2015, including receipts for two well-publicized trips to meet with NFL owners and NFL Commissioners in an effort to keep the Chargers in San Diego.
A spokesman said Faulconer declined an on-camera interview, but he pointed out the city only pays for Faulconer’s lodging and transportation when the mayor travels. Faulconer pays for meals and other trip-related expenses out of his own pocket. (City of San Diego gets bonus points for the prompt response to our records request. A spokesman for the mayor delivered the records to NBC 7 two days after the request was made.)
Imperial Beach provided receipts for $3,924 in travel. Mayor Serge Dedina attended two conferences in Mexico City, one in Las Vegas and the League of California Cities new mayor training in Sacramento. Dedina said some of those expenses are being reimbursed because of a canceled trip to Washington D.C. and incorrect luggage charges.
San Diego County Taxpayer’s Association President Haney Hong said the important parts of elected officials’ travel budgets are that expenses are disclosed to the public and guidelines followed.
“Mayors and elected officials are no different than employees of the city and county,” Hong said. “Everyone should follow specific rules that everyone agrees to, and these rules are determined through normal public processes. As long as folks are following those rules, they’re set up so folks can do the work of the public.”
Residents who spoke with NBC 7 Monday agreed.
“I think it’s really good to find out what they’re paying, and what they’re doing with our tax dollars,” said Jodie Rippon. “I think what everyone wants to know is: as a result of their travel, what came of it? Did they accomplish anything for their constituents by going on the trip?”
Resident Bob Steinberger agreed.
“Absolutely. You want to have an open government and you want to know what your politicians are doing and how the money is being spent,” Steinberger said, adding he thought politicians getting out there and exchanging ideas with people from other states and countries could be very beneficial to the city.
Eight cities in San Diego County reported no expenditures on out-of-county travel: Coronado, Del Mar, Escondido, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Oceanside, San Marcos, National City and Vista.