DC trip for 5 Council members cost $12.5K - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

DC trip for 5 Council members cost $12.5K

April 24th, 2022 SanTan Sun News
DC trip for 5 Council members cost $12.5K

By Ken Sain
Staff Writer

There were grumblings even before a majority of the City Council attended the National League of Cities meeting in Washington, D.C., in March.

People were wondering why  so many council members were attending the same meeting across the country, suggesting the trip was a waste of taxpayer funds.

Councilmen Matt Orlando and Mark Stewart serve in leadership positions with NLC and would be expected to attend the meetings that took place March 14-16. Joining them at the meeting were members Christine Ellis, OD Harris and Rene Lopez. Mayor Kevin Hartke and Vice Mayor Terry Roe did not attend the conference.

Not all expenses had been submitted as of the end of last week, but it appears the entire trip cost Chandler taxpayers about $12,500.

Ellis saved the city about $1,000 by staying with family instead of in a hotel.

President Biden spoke at the conference, as did other federal officials. The five members of the Council met with members of Arizona’s Congressional delegation while they were in Washington, DC.

“We speak with our Senators, members of congress, and their respective staff often – in DC and Arizona,” said Ryan Peters, the city’s strategic initiatives director, who coordinates all lobbying efforts for the city with state and federal officials.

“This conference gave us exposure to senior levels of the administration and other national leaders. During this conference we had multiple meetings to discuss our federal agenda. It should be noted that Chandler does not currently have a federal lobbyist/consultant, so our presence in Washington, D.C., is limited to these types of opportunities.”

The salary for Chandler’s mayor is $56,758 annually while the vice mayor and other members earn $33,236 a year in compensation from the city. All seven members also get $7,000 each fiscal year to cover their travel and other costs related to their positions.

That was the money used to cover the trip to Washington for the five members who attended. So, even if they didn’t use it for that trip, they would likely have used it for another trip or purpose.

There were other reasons why so many members of council decided to attend, officials pointed out.

It was the first in-person meeting of the NLC since the pandemic began. Another, Peters said, is that new members often attend these meetings to get a feel for the organization before deciding if they wish to pursue leadership opportunities in it.

Ellis and Harris were first elected in 2020 and had not previously attended a national NLC meeting.

“The cities that most actively participate tend to be better positioned to set the agenda,” Peters said. “Chandler is a leader in many areas, and it is important for the city to be represented.”

Here is how much of their $7,000 expense fund each member of Council has spent in the current fiscal year:

• Christine Ellis, $5,068.92

• Rene Lopez, $4,830.87

• OD Harris, $4,380.49

• Matt Orlando, $3,501.68

• Mark Stewart $3,076.60

• Kevin Hartke, $2,779.50

• Terry Roe, $585.22

Most of the Mayor Kevin Hartke’s expenses are for an upcoming trip to Washington, D.C., in May. He expensed $2,500 for a Greater Phoenix Economic Council meeting.

Here’s what Hartke’s colleagues spent their money on this fiscal year:

Christine Ellis: Included among her expenses includes $14.33 each month for an upgraded city cell phone. She also spent more than $100 for a ticket to Diaspora Showcase Africa Koras & Guitars next month in Mesa.

Rene Lopez: Spent $1,000 to buy a table for CeCe’s Hope Center Night of Light. Lopez is co-founder and chairman of the board for the nonprofit that helps victims of sex trafficking.

OD Harris: Spent $500 to hire a violist for the Martin Luther King Jr. ceremony.

Mark Stewart spend $500 for a table at the East Valley Chamber of Commerce Alliances breakfast.

Matt Orlando limited his expenses mostly to attending the Arizona League of Cities and the National League of Cities events.

Terry Roe spendt very little of his funds, mostly on registration for events.