San Jose mayor critical of council travel

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has issued a memorandum about updating the City Council’s travel policy for trips made to sister cities as a response to five city councilmembers and multiple staff members traveling to Japan this week.

San Jose City Council’s Sylvia Arenas, Lan Diep, Sergio Jimenez, Johnny Khamis and Raul Peralez as well as a number of city staff members traveled to the sister city of Okayama, Japan.

Liccardo recommended three modifications to the Council Travel Policy regarding trips to sister cities: that the mayor should nominate a single councilmember to represent San Jose, subject to approval, if he or she cannot go, that the Council approval should be sought out if more than one member wants to go on a trip that public funding is being used for, and that councilmembers should not use public dollars to bring additional staff.

Jimenez tweeted a picture of four of the councilmembers, including himself, around noon Monday at a welcoming ceremony that featured Okayama Mayor Masao Omori. He described the welcome as warm in the social media post.

Khamis paid for his own expenses to go on the trip, which was commended by Liccardo in his memo:

“Good sense and adherence to the existing city policy has generally ensured that we avoid ‘junkets.'”

Liccardo said his two main concerns about sending so many city representatives to Okayama were that city business was interrupted in the form of a lighter agenda for Tuesday’s 1:30 p.m. council meeting as well as other cancellations, and the expenditure of public dollars for elected officials and staff to go on the same trip.

A Neighborhood Services Committee meeting was supposed to take place Tuesday as well as a study session, but they were both rescheduled due to the absences, the mayor said:

“Interrupting meetings for lobbying trips to Sacramento or Washington may understandably have superseding priority — for example, to obtain critical resources for our city, … Travel on ‘sister city’ trips is substantially less compelling as a public priority, however.”

The mayor said he believes that the hard-working public paying for these trips “justifiably sees declining marginal returns with the attendance of each additional member.”

The mayor listed recent measures spanning from 2008 to 2016 in which the city has asked for voters to pay out of pocket in order to drive the point home that the city should not be abusing money that voters think “will be used appropriately.”

Liccardo said:

“That trust is vital to our ability to do our jobs, and to serve our residents … I urge that we enact some minor reforms to the policy to ensure that we preserve it.”

San Jose has eight sister cities: Okayama in Japan, San Jose in Costa Rica, Veracruz and Guadalajara in Mexico, Tainan in Taiwan, Dublin in Ireland, Pune in India and Ekaterinburg in Russia, according to the city’s website.