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Junket Junkies

Blowing dough on the road is par for the course among some high-flying, high-rolling councilmembers

By Will Harper

AFTER EXAMINING HUNDREDS of public documents, Metro uncovered more than food scraps. There were also some surprising publicly subsidized travel habits among our elected leaders. The mayor, councilmembers and city manager took approximately $54,000 worth of travel junkets during the 18-month study period, with destinations such as Israel, Dublin, London and Washington, D.C., for presentations, legislative committee meetings, professional conferences and conventions. That's not to say the city's top brass limited their travel to overseas or cross-country jaunts. No, the mayor and four councilmembers racked up $1,410 in meal and hotel costs while staying in San Francisco for the League of California Cities annual conference in 1995.

Such trips benefit the city in several ways, officials say. Councilwoman Trixie Johnson, who, over 18 months, logged more than $7,000 in travel costs with a few cross-country trips, says the national lobbying committees she sits on remind Washington to keep city interests in mind when crafting legislation. Conferences and conventions also give local officials an opportunity to make contacts and bring new ideas to San Jose, trip-takers explain. But Councilwoman Pat Dando was skeptical. "You don't have to travel to other cities to come up with good ideas for San Jose," says Dando, who went to one national conference early in her term and has not gone to another since.

While on the road, San Jose's public officials aren't always looking to save as much money as possible. For a recent National League of Cities convention held in San Antonio, Texas, the city's Washington lobbyist, John Montgomery, signed up attending councilmembers and senior officials for the most expensive hotels listed by conference organizers. Montgomery explains that most councilmembers want to stay as close as possible to the site of the convention. Those hotels tend to be more expensive, he says. At the four-day San Antonio convention, San Jose politicians stayed at the Hilton, which cost $60 a night more than the cheapest hotel offered. During that convention, George Shirakawa splurged on $66 worth of valet parking--more than twice as much as it would cost to park his car himself.

Also while on the road, elected officials and the city manager opted to spend about $589 for room service instead of going to a nearby restaurant. City Manager Regina Williams says that room service often is cheaper than eating at a hotel restaurant, even though two room-service receipts sampled, list a $3.95 medium coffee and an $8.75 bacon cheeseburger.

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From the April 10-16, 1997 issue of Metro

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