July 24, 2004
Mesa is paying nearly $3,100 for two City Council members to go to Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada, to look at ways to strengthen the local economy.
Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, is one of Mesa’s five sister cities.
All expenses are being paid for councilmen Mike Whalen and Kyle Jones. They left Wednesday and are scheduled to return Monday.
The city is spending $827 on round-trip airfare, $1,688 for hotel rooms, $548 for food and $100 for transportation for the two officials.
"I’m not one of the more wealthy council members," Whalen said Friday during a phone interview from Burnaby. "I decided this was a working trip."
Jones could not be reached for comment.
Other Mesa officials went but paid their own way. They are Mayor Keno Hawker, Councilman Rex Griswold, and city employees Ellen Pence and Wayne Balmer. The group also included Pinny Sheoran, director of Mesa Community College’s Business and Industry Institute.
Mesa officials were quick to defend the trip, stating it is not a junket. Some East Valley officials have been critical of the Sister City program. Gilbert Town Councilman Dave Petersen has called it a "bureaucratic travel agency," and Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, RChandler, has questioned the benefit to taxpayers when politicians travel to exotic locations.
Ruth Ann Norris, who was involved in Mesa’s Sister City before becoming the city’s housing director, said Sister City trips are not vacations because participants are always on the go.
"The city is not paying their way to go lay on a beach," she said.
Norris said the beauty of the program is it gives people in different countries an opportunity to interact and learn from each other, she said.
Whalen said Burnaby is a suburb much like Mesa. Over the years, Burnaby officials accumulated a lot of land, zoned it properly, then sold it for a handsome profit to pull the city out of debt, he said. In addition, Simon Fraser University in Burnaby has a partnership with Mesa Community College, he said.
Mesa officials were scheduled to visit the Shadbolt Centre for the Arts, Simon Fraser University, and the Burnaby Sports Complex, and attend economic development workshops. The itinerary called for golf today and a free day Sunday.
Whalen’s and Jones’ travel costs are coming out of their yearly discretionary fund, which is $11,000 each.
The relationship between Burnaby and Mesa began in 1999. The city chose Burnaby and Guaymas, Mexico, as sister cities in anticipation of the proposed 2,000-mile northsouth highway trade route linking Mexico, the United States and Canada, Norris said.
The cities also have tourism and travel in common, Norris said. Burnaby is a good place for Mesa people to go in summer, and Mesa is a good place for Burnaby residents to go in the winter, she said.