The low-down on Mayor Eddie Perez's visit to Ireland, and the reimbursement that's supposed to be forthcoming
October 09, 2008
Last June, the City of Harford paid for Mayor Eddie Perez and his legislative director, Derek Donnelly, to fly to New Ross, Ireland, for a ceremony honoring President John F. Kennedy, who had visited New Ross in 1963.
The tickets on Aer Lingus for Perez and Donnelly, costing $1,226 each, were charged to a city credit card. At a city council meeting on Sept. 15, community activist Kevin Brookman questioned the validity of the charges, asking why Perez and Donnelly didn't pay for their own tickets, as had City Clerk Dan Carey.
Carey told the Advocate, however, he had not gone as a member of the mayor's party and did not attend the ceremony. Carey said he was vacationing in Ireland on his own, and while he did cross paths with the mayor, having dinner with him and some New Ross officials, he flew back home before the ceremony.
Sarah Barr, Perez's director of communications, said a few days after the Sept. 15 city council meeting that Sister Cities, a private nonprofit based in Washington D.C., was reimbursing the city for the mayor's trip to Ireland.
But last week, Brian R. Smith, a partner at the Hartford law firm of Robinson & Cole who runs the Sister Cities program in Hartford, said there had been no formal request from the city for reimbursement, and that no decision had been made whether Sister Cities would pay for the tickets.
"When we receive the formal request, then we would take it to our next meeting on October 22," said Smith.
Barr said the city would send an invoice to Sister Cities prior to the Oct. 22 meeting.
Brookman acquired records of the city's credit card charges from Jan. 1 to Aug. 21, 2008 through a Freedom of Information request, paying about $130 in copying fees for the two-inch-thick stack of paper. As the Hartford Courant reported on Sept. 25, the city has since revoked the credit cards from all city employees except department heads as part of an effort to make up a projected $8 million deficit in the city budget. Previously there were 132 cards being used by employees of the city, board of education and library, according to Barr.
Barr explained last week in an e-mail why she believed the mayor's trip to New Ross benefited Hartford — generally the criteria for any city government to foot the bill for travel — and why it was necessary for Donnelly to go along.
The mayor's legislative director, wrote Barr, had worked out the logistics of the trip and accompanied the mayor to make sure the trip ran smoothly. She said the dedication of a JFK memorial along the river front in New Ross was an "important event" in Ireland, and that it was an honor for Perez to be invited to attend.
"The Mayor had the opportunity to meet with the Irish Minister of Finance, members of the Irish Parliament and the Irish Minister to the EU," wrote Barr. "He spent a good deal of time with the newly elected Council President of New Ross, Ray Lawlor, and they discussed the revitalization of New Ross, which has seen a major economic boom over the last few years."
Barr said the discussion of building an economic relationship with New Ross will continue when a delegation from the city visits Hartford in March.¦