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San Jose City Council postpones travel policy decision amid ‘acrimonious debate’ - http://travelporn.info | luxury travel sites

April 18, 2018 3:54 am
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Amid a series of conflicting suggestions and hurt feelings, the San Jose City Council decided Tuesday night to put off finalizing a new travel policy for council members.

“This is becoming an acrimonious debate,” acknowledged Mayor Sam Liccardo during Tuesday’s council meeting, which stretched six hours.

Much of the acrimony stemmed from a memo the mayor penned suggesting limits on how many council members can travel on “sister city” visits after he realized nearly half the council signed up for a recent trip to Okayama, Japan, on the city’s dime. While sister city visits can be a valuable way to build global understanding and economic cooperation, it was hard, he wrote, to justify the expense as the city experiences a budget shortfall.

“I certainly felt a little poked in the eye,” said Raul Peralez, a council member who went on the trip and found it a valuable learning experience. “It was really just a very educational time where we were able to learn directly from their government and about ours.”

Kathy Sakamoto, the head of the San Jose-Okayama Sister Cities organization and a member of the delegation that made the trip, worried the tension that erupted among council members over the memo would make its way to Japan.

Officials in Okayama, she said, expressed their appreciation that San Jose was willing to send five council members.

“We did not want to appear that our city did not understand” the value of the relationship, she told the council Tuesday.

Councilman Sergio Jimenez agreed.

“I can appreciate further clarifying city policies,” he wrote in his own memo. “However, the mayor’s memo comes across as an attempt to undercut the credibility of those who traveled to Japan and expresses a lack of support for sister city relationships.”

The council ultimately voted to direct the city’s Community and Economic Development Committee, chaired by Councilman Johnny Khamis, to take up the issue in August or September and return to council with a suggestion.

There is another potential sister city visit — to Dublin — slated for October and it’s unclear whether a new policy will be in place by that time.

“It’s possible,” said Khamis, who went to Japan but paid his own way.

The council had been expected to vote on approving the mayor’s proposed changes, but a handful of council members filed memos in response to the mayor’s initial note raising a series of concerns.

Councilwoman Sylvia Arenas said she was open to the mayor’s suggestion that council members could seek travel funding from foundations or other organizations, but worried about special interests. Councilman Don Rocha said he wanted an analysis of where council members have traveled and how much the trips have cost the city before making a decision.

There have been nine sister city trips in the last 17 years, including six related to Dublin, said Deputy City Manager Kim Walesh. With the exception of a three-year period from 2007 to 2010 when there was a citywide account for such trips, the travel has generally been paid for out of the various council office budgets. Several council members suggested that if the mayor’s office ultimately gets more control over who goes on such trips, the funding should also come from his office.

Liccardo, who did not go to Japan, said he wasn’t pointing fingers at any one council member with his memo but responding to concerns from residents who don’t necessarily see travel as a council priority about how city funds are used.

“Our residents’ views matter,” he said. “I think we could better use our collective judgment next time.”

The mayor has proposed sending a single member of the council to represent San Jose on sister city visits.

But Councilman Lan Diep, who did go to Japan, pushed back at that idea.

“Had I gone alone,” he said, “I would not have encompassed everything that we all brought back together.”

Sakamoto agreed.

“I was so happy to see our City Council members bonding,” she said of the Okayama trip, “and understanding what small innovations can do for a whole city.”