Wednesday, February 27, 2008

BLOOMQUINN TRAVELS ON THE PUBLIC DIME


Study: Pols drop 28K of city cash on travel
By David Freedlander, amNewYork Staff Writer More stories mailto:dfreedlander@am-ny.com?subject=amNY.com
February 27, 2008

Members of the City Council spent more than $28,000 on travel outside of New York City last year, an analysis by amNewYork shows.The council's biggest spender was James Sanders (D-Laurelton) who billed the city more than $6,000 for workshops in Denver, Dallas and upstate. Sanders said his travel has helped the economic growth of his district, which includes the Rockaways, Springfield Gardens and Rosedale.
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"I do believe that training must be non-stop and New York is not the only place with knowledge. You have to go to where the knowledge is," he said. "I didn't choose these sites. Denver in the winter is not a very luxurious place."

Sanders, who was fined $1,000 last year for keeping his wife on his legislative staff, spent more than $1,700 at the National Business Incubation Association workshop, including more than $400 spent for lodging at the Adams Mark hotel in Denver.The group assists small businesses in the early stages of their development and Sanders said he hoped to bring that knowledge to work in his district.

He also spent nearly $800 on a two-night staff retreat in Millwood, N.Y., the only councilmember to bill the city for that kind of event."If you can get your staff to give up their weekend and get thoroughly trained, I would argue that's cost effective," he said. "This shows that I am a very conscientious person who understands the needs of his district."

Sanders' travel only outpaced City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who got her out-of-town passport stamped 10 times at taxpayer cost of more than $5,000, including visits to Texas to visit with troops from New York City, to New Orleans to advocate for the city's tourism industry and an $800 trip to Washington. D.C. for the Human Rights Campaign Board reception and dinner.

Quinn could not be reached for comment, but a spokesman, Andrew Doba, said in a statement, "As elected officials, it is not uncommon for the speaker and members of the council to travel on official business."Good-government watchdogs were divided about the usefulness of such travel."There are trips that make sense for public officials to be taking and there are trips that are unrelated to real public business," said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause.

"We are all creative, and so can come up with some reason why a certain trip is for the public's benefit if we try hard enough."She added however, "One thing we criticize public officials for is going on junkets that are paid for by lobbyists and corporate interests, so we can't then say it's not OK for them to travel on the public dime."

Of the 51 council members, only 22 took trips at taxpayers' expense, and most of their excursions were lobbying trips to Albany or Washington, D.C."I think some of these things we should pay ourselves and not bear the cost along to the public," said Councilman Charles Barron , (D-Brooklyn) who said he will be paying his own way for upcoming trips to Albany and Cuba, and spent upwards of $3,000 last year traveling to Africa. "Sometimes a lot of these trips to Albany or what not are big social gatherings and hardly anything gets done. To me, paying for it is just some of the sacrifice that a public official should make."
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