Mayors shouldn't travel on foreign tabs - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Mayors shouldn't travel on foreign tabs

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Posted: Friday, October 16, 2009 6:41 pm | Updated: 1:46 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Our View: It's good news that a pair of East Valley mayors are hitting the international road this month to expand local ties to global markets, but the bad news is that some of the host countries are paying for the trips.

A pair of East Valley mayors are hitting the international road this month to expand local ties to global markets and perhaps to help their communities grow out of our common economic malaise.

The good news: Neither mayor is relying on local taxpayers to pick up the costs of their travels. The bad news: Some of the host countries are paying instead, a possible conflict of interest that we don't believe should be overlooked.

As the Tribune has reported, Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn spent three days this week attending an international conference on sustainable development and technology in China. Several Chinese government agencies covered the cost of the conference, including Dunn's travel expenses. Also, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith will join a delegation from the U.S. Conference of Mayors for a week of international business talks in Saudi Arabia. That country is splitting the cost of the trip with the mayors' group.

We recognize the value of face-to-face interaction to make contacts and to open doors for new opportunities. Even in the Internet age, cultural differences still frequently garble long-distance communications when deep ties aren't already established. So we aren't alarmed by the notion that local mayors who want diverse economies need to travel to other countries once in a while to encourage movement in that direction.

But we do have an objection to such mayors allowing these foreign powers to pay for their trips. China might enjoy far more economic freedom than in the past, but politically it's still a communist dictatorship with well-documented corruption that has followed its rapid rise in wealth. Saudia Arabia is a U.S. ally, but it also is a monarchy heavily influence by Islamic sharia law.

Both countries naturally expect influence to flow with their money, and they have no experience with the proper role of elected officials in representative democracies. East Valley mayors shouldn't be in a position where a foreign counterpart might call on them to repay a favor with a favor.

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