Germany trip cost Chattanooga taxpayers $6,400

Germany trip cost Chattanooga taxpayers $6,400

December 25th, 2011 by Cliff Hightower in News

Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield

Photo by John Rawlston/Times Free Press.

BY THE NUMBERS


• $13,040: Travel payments this year for council, mayor and administration

• $6,616: Payments for Mayor Ron Littlefield's travel this year, excluding Germany trip

• $6,424: Payments for city officials' Germany trip

Source: Chattanooga

A trip to Germany recently cost Chattanooga taxpayers more than $6,400, almost half the city's travel expenditures for the year.

But city officials said the trip was worth it and may help spur economic development.

"We had some leads in other projects the [U.S.] Embassy wants to work with us on, as well as some leads in economic development," Mayor Ron Littlefield said.

Six Chattanooga officials -- Littlefield; council Chairwoman Pam Ladd; Councilman Andraé McGary; Littlefield's special assistant, Matt Lea; his deputy, Anita Ebersole; and his chief of staff's administrator, Marie Chinery -- were on the trip.

So was the mayor's wife, Lanis Littlefield, but he paid for her trip.

Jim Folkner, with Citizens to Recall Mayor Littlefield, was critical of the trip.

"I think the people of Chattanooga expect the mayor to stay at home in Chattanooga," he said. "We have too many problems for him to be gallivanting around the world."

Folkner said the mayor's term is running out and questioned what he can accomplish, especially before a recall election that is set for August but which is still subject to court action.

"I'm worried about what he's committing us to in his last few months in office," Folkner said.

McGary said the city's Germany trip reciprocated a delegation from Wolfsburg, Germany, that visited Chattanooga two months ago in a Sister City dedication.

"Was it worth it for Wolfsburg to come?" he asked. "It was a two-step process."

Ladd said the delegation met with some of Volkswagen's highest-level officials and developed leads for economic development and educational opportunities.

"We had four different initiatives come out and are open to dialogue," she said. "When you look at all those things, the cost of airfare is very reasonable."

OTHER TRIPS

The mayor spent more than $6,600 of taxpayer money for trips this year, excluding Germany. He made several visits to Washington, D.C., and also traveled to Seattle; Boulder, Colo.; New York City; and Detroit.

Mark West, president of the Chattanooga Tea Party, another of the groups involved in the recall effort, said he is always concerned about fiscal responsibility. But as a business owner, he said he wouldn't criticize an expenditure of $13,000 from the $200 million city budget.

"It would not be outrageous," he said. "There's so many other things we can look at in the purse strings."

But he said there are a few questions about specific trips. On one trip, he said, the mayor participated in a video shoot against recall efforts. West said that might not be a good way to spend tax money.

Littlefield said he spent most of his travel time learning about new environmental laws and lobbying against some he felt would hurt cities.

He said some people will question whether city officials should travel at all outside the region.

"There will always be critics," he said.

Ladd said travel is important. She said she paid her own way to a League of Cities conference this year in Arizona and learned a tremendous amount.

"You do get ideas, you do see the best practices, and it's good to take your head out of the sand," she said.