City Officials Jet Off to England
City says it's not a pleasure trip
Travis County Commissioners failed to agree on sending staff on a fact-finding mission to this weekend's British Grand Prix, leaving them to depend on their colleagues in the city who are making the trip. However, the city team now faces accusations that their trip is a junket.
The Circuit of the Americas had offered to send Travis County Fire Marshal Hershel Lee and a staffer from the sheriff's department to the Silverstone Circuit in central England for a week. A similar offer had been extended to the city to take Mayor Lee Leffingwell, City Manager Marc Ott, and four senior staff members to the event.
On June 26, the county commissioners split 2-2 (with Ron Davis absent) on the circuit's offer and so had to demur. However, since the proposal to the city did not require council action, the officials' three-day city trip goes ahead. The city says this is not a pleasure trip, and a draft itinerary shows a packed schedule, including meetings with senior police staff and the fire and rescue service for the county of Northamptonshire from 9am to 5pm on race day, July 8.
The key questions have revolved around the scheduling of the trip, and who is paying for what. The Austin American-Statesman called the trip a junket and criticized the fact that the city will be paying for flights for four staff – Police Chief Art Acevedo, Fire Chief Rhoda Mae Kerr, Assistant City Manager Sue Edwards, and Deputy Director for Economic Growth and Redevelopment Rodney Gonzales. Apart from that $5,556 expense, all other costs – including Ott and Leffingwell's flights, and all accommodations – will be paid for by the Circuit of the Americas.
As for the timing, Commissioners Karen Huber and Sarah Eckhardt raised concerns about having two senior county public safety officials absent during Independence Day activities this week and questioned whether such a last-minute trip would yield much useful work time. During the debate, Eckhardt raised the possibility of sending staff to an F1 race later in the season. But County Judge Sam Biscoe was critical of what he called a lost opportunity, because finding a comparable event may not be a simple task. The Circuit of the Americas is very similar to Silverstone – a rural track near a major highway, and about 15 miles from the nearest major population center. Like the U.S. Grand Prix, scheduled for Nov. 18, the event is expected to attract a crowd of around 120,000. Along with Canada's event, held June 10, it is one of only two Grand Prix where the language of the host nation is English.
Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald said, "Since this is an international event, it would certainly help us if we didn't have to navigate through a language barrier."