Charged city $11,000 for travels
East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Arizona)
Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn charged taxpayers more than $1,300 to stay at the swanky Rittenhouse Hotel during an urban planning conference in downtown Philadelphia last spring.
That was after he charged $800 on his c i ty- i s s u e d credit card to stay at a hotel in January in New York City’s Times Square.
And he traveled at taxpayer expense to Madison, Wis., and the Washington, D.C., area to visit a pair of Covance facilities last year as protests escalated over the drug company’s plans to open a facility in Chandler.
The trips were among several made by the Chandler mayor during the past year as he traveled on official business across the country and racked up more than $11,000 in credit card bills.
Dunn’s credit card is one of more than 560 issued to elected officials and employees of Chandler, according to public records. Most cards are capped at $2,000 per purchase or $5,000 per month. Three city officials have been given monthly limits of $10,000.
Last year, Chandler officials charged more than $2.6 million on city credit cards. Balances are paid off each month out of the General Fund, which is used to pay for basic city services. In total, Dunn registered charges in seven different cities between July 1, 2006, and June 31, 2007, according to public records. The Chandler mayor also charged meals and cell phone bills on his city credit account. But the majority of his expenses resulted from out-ofstate travels. “I think that in every case we tried looking for the cheapest hotel and airfare rates,” Dunn said.
But some advocacy groups warned that even trips taken on official business can sometimes be a waste of taxpayer money. Jaime Court, president of the California-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, said publicly financed trips need to be watched closely to make sure they are not abused. “Treating the taxpayers’ money like a line of credit is just wrong,” said Court, who is a nationally recognized consumer advocate and author of several books.
Dunn, on the other hand, argues the publicly financed trips were absolutely essential and in the best interest of the city. “Planning has always been a passion of mine,” Dunn said of his decision to go to the planning conference in Philadelphia. In fact, Dunn has traveled to the annual American Planners Association conference on the taxpayers’ bill for the past 14 years.
Dunn, who sat on Chandler’s Planning and Zoning Commission before he was elected to the council, said the conferences have sparked useful ideas that he brought back to the city. For example, Chandler’s policy of limiting where so-called “bigbox” retail stores can open was taken directly from past planning conferences, he said.
This year, the conference was held in April in Philadelphia, where he stayed at the Rittenhouse, a boutique hotel, at a cost of $272 a night. “We tried finding cheaper hotels, but they were booked,” he said.
During another trip this year, the Chandler mayor charged nearly $800 for a three-night stay at the DoubleTree Guest Suites in New York City. He and several other city officials met with a financial firm that handles bond sales on behalf of the city. The mayor described the trip as a city tradition. “We have went back to New York every year to meet with bond companies to increase our rating,” Dunn said.
However, not every mayor in the East Valley considers such travels necessary to earn a top bond rating — which can mean the difference of millions of dollars in interest on government loans.
“There isn’t a financial analyst in the country worth their salt that needs the mayor standing in front on an expensive trip to New York,” Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman said. Shortly after he was elected in 2004, Hallman was criticized for refusing to travel to New York to meet with bond raters. Instead, he sent a videotape. Some had worried it might drag down the city’s rating, but that didn’t happen as the city ultimately retained its triple-A bond rating. Likewise, Scottsdale officials also forgo traveling to New York City in an effort to influence bond rates.
In Chandler, City Council members are allowed to travel to two conferences each year on public money, according to the city’s policy. They are allowed to spend $4,618 each year. Dunn’s trips during the past budget year also included stops in Rosemont, Ill., Vienna, Va., and Reno, Nev. Two of his trips — Reno and Washington, D.C. — were for the National League of Cities and Towns conferences. As he was president of the Arizona chapter, the expenses were reimbursed. That amounted to $1,500, according to Dunn and other city officials.
During one trip in September 2006, he and other council members traveled to Madison to visit a Covance facility. Dunn visited another Covance plant near Washington, D.C., later that year. He described both trips as fact-finding missions to see how the company interacts with nearby communities. “Everywhere we went, we learned that they were a well-respected member of the community,” he said of Covance.
Boyd also charged taxpayers for dozens of dinners and lunches with local and state officials. Most of the bills ranged between $20 and $30, but there were a few charges at highend restaurants in the Valley. One of those was a $40 lunch at Durant’s, an upscale steakhouse in downtown Phoenix. He said he was meeting with state lawmakers and that there are not many restaurants near the Capitol. Another lunch at The Keg in Chandler cost more than $100, according to city records. Dunn characterized the meals as meetings of convenience with state officials and his fellow council members who don’t have time to meet at Chandler City Hall. “I guess I could have asked them to meet me at my office,” he said.