Mayor Finch: Vegas conference worth cost
Posted in the Trumbull Forum
#1 Aug 24, 2013
BRIDGEPORT -- A $6,330 travel bill for a mayor's conference in a $517 million budget may not seem controversial at first glance.
But throw in accommodations at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino's Great Room in Sin City and Mayor Bill Finch knows plenty of people will be questioning the expense.
"This would be fodder for the people who don't like me on any given day," the mayor said this week, of his June trip to the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Las Vegas.
Hearst Connecticut Newspapers recently received the expense receipts for that taxpayer-funded trip, which included a total $2,100 conference fee for Finch, Adam Wood, his chief of staff, and Ruben Felipe, deputy chief of staff.
The city also paid $2,426 for accommodation for all three at the Mandalay Bay. And while Wood and Felipe stayed in a standard room -- at $199 plus a 12 percent tax a night -- the mayor and his wife stayed in the Great Room, which cost $249 plus the tax.
"I don't want to sound less than humble but Las Vegas had three presentations from the city of Bridgeport," he said. "There wasn't any other city that had that many presentations. So it's important I think -- from a standpoint of the taxpayer that is working very hard for their money -- to know that this is a very small amount of money in terms of total budget and it's really focused on getting resources for the city and improving our reputation."
A few weeks ago, the mayor also attended a USCM leadership conference in Park City, Utah. While the trip marked his first leadership conference since entering office, the mayor has been a regular at the annual mayors' meeting.
He has also made trips overseas with the group, including an excursion to China in 2010. That trip was funded by the USCM, but the cost of all other trips are borne by city taxpayers.
After the second tax increase in as many years, however, some people are wondering whether the conference's benefits really do outweigh the cost, as Finch argues. This year the city is undergoing a property revaluation that Finance Director Anne Kelly-Lenz has admitted is likely to lead to a drop in property values and a tax rate increase next year.
John Slater, Republican Town Committee chairman, questioned the mayor's need to bring along two staffers and his wife.
"To me, if you're going to bring your wife and your deputy chief of staff and his wife and others, you shouldn't be expending city funds," he said.
Finch said his wife Sonya, who travels with him to most conferences, always pays her own travel and meal expenses. Wood, who attended meetings to learn about various city management topics and prepped Finch for his presentations, said his wife did not attend the event.
"It's customary that the mayor takes staff members that are working on something that may be presented at the conference or who may learn from something there," said Felipe, who is in charge of moving along the city's East Side Development Corridor plans.
Mary-Jane Foster, a former Finch friend turned political opponent, said her main concern is not the mayor's attendance at these conferences but the lack of tangible proof she sees that what the mayor is learning there is actually helping the city.
"I think these can be valuable experiences," Foster said. "But in the private sector or in the nonprofit sector for that matter we're always creating benchmarks for success and measuring returns on investment. So far there has been no measurable return on any of these trips."
But Finch said while he's learned about everything from sewage treatment to the efficiency of LED streetlights, giving examples is tough because sometimes it's the relationships built during the trips that make them worthwhile.
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#2 Aug 24, 2013
But Finch said while he's learned about everything from sewage treatment to the efficiency of LED streetlights, giving examples is tough because sometimes it's the relationships built during the trips that make them worthwhile.....Couldn't he just look this stuff up online and make a phone call for tough questions? Sure, but travel there and you get a free vacation! Is it cheaper than a driveway?
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