Council denies mayor's request for conference travel expenses

Council denies mayor's request for conference travel expenses
By Ethan Andrews | Aug 09, 2018

Belfast — City councilors on Tuesday congratulated Mayor Samantha Paradis on an invitation by former President Bill Clinton and Chelsea Clinton to appear as a panelist at the Clinton Global Initiative University meeting in October, but turned down her request for $1,000 to cover airfare and a hotel.

Paradis, who recently returned from the Young Elected Officials Network conference in Seattle and will be a panelist at the upcoming Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, asked for $500 for airfare and another $500 for one night in a hotel near the University of Chicago, where the meeting will be held, adding that event organizers had offered to pay for one night, and she would pay for a third.

The mayor was beaming as she shared the news, but her pitch met with awkward silence from councilors.

Several expressed reservations about asking taxpayers to foot the bill when it was unclear what the city would gain from the mayor’s participation in the conference.

Councilor Neal Harkness said travel expenses for city officials historically have been approved based on what city staff or elected officials “could bring back, not what they were giving, what they were presenting.”

Paradis said she would be speaking to 250 graduate and undergraduate students and noted that Belfast needs to attract young people to round out the aging demographic of the city. At previous conferences she has attended, the costs of which were paid almost entirely through scholarships, Paradis said she has been able to represent the city in a positive light.

“In Seattle, in San Francisco, every single time, I’m speaking about how wonderful Belfast is,” she said. “And we cannot measure how much value that has, because we will never know.”

Paradis included herself as a young person who fell in love with the city, and she anticipated sharing how she became the city’s mayor.

“I think my story has a lot of inspiration, and I think it will move people to consider running in their local elections, where they’re from, or even moving here.”

Additionally, she said she expects to listen to and learn from attendees, including leaders from around the world.

“Last year Madeleine Albright spoke,” she said. “I’m going to get to have conversations with leaders from every different industry and community activism and hear what’s going on in their circles, and think, ‘Huh, how could that work here in Belfast?'”

When the council continued to express reservations, Paradis suggested using $900 already budgeted for her travel expenses to meetings of the Maine Mayors Coalition. She added that she has participated in most meetings by phone, as do the majority of members.

Councilor Eric Sanders supported that idea, but was alone. Other councilors encouraged Paradis to attend but declined to approve the travel expenses. Harkness suggested that Paradis try to raise the money through the crowdfunding website GoFundMe.com.

Paradis expressed disbelief.

“I’m very disheartened,” she said. “I was invited by a former president.”