Ratepayers will foot the bill for more than $80,000 in travel costs for four Wyndham councillors, the council’s chief executive and two directors as they head overseas this month to develop partnerships in China and the US.
The first all-expenses-paid trip, costing $16,500 for four days, will depart on Saturday (May 18) for Changzhou, China. The second trip, a 12-day study tour to the US, will leave on Sunday (May 25) and cost about $65,000.
Both trips will be paid out of the council’s economic development and professional development budget.
Wyndham mayor Mia Shaw, cultural diversity portfolio holder Henry Barlow and deals, investment and major projects director Kate Roffey will finalise a Sister Cities agreement with Changzhou to develop economic, trade and cultural ties.
Cr Shaw said the Sister Cities relationship, two years in the making, would provide access to new opportunities.
“I understand that some people are not always supportive of overseas travel,” she said in a statement on Facebook.
“However, given that we are set to be the size of Canberra, we need to make things happen for ourselves and generate investment for jobs and infrastructure.”
In contrast, Maribyrnong mayor Martin Zakharov headed off a ratepayer backlash over his trip to China last week by agreeing to pay his own travel and accommodation expenses of nearly $4000, as reported by Star Weekly last week.
Wyndham chief executive Kelly Grigsby said the Maribyrnong mayor’s situation was unique.
“Given that the travel relates to council business or professional development, Wyndham City covers the cost of the trip,” she said.
“This ensures that the most suitable councillor or staff member is taking part, rather than the decision being based on capacity for an individual to pay.”
Ms Grigsby will be accompanied next week by strategy and policy impact head Natalie Walker and councillors Kim McAliney and Josh Gilligan on a visit to New York, Washington and San Francisco with the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA).
“The UDIA study tour will be attended by other councils, planning authorities, developers and other industry representatives,” she said.
“It is an unprecedented opportunity for the stakeholders who make key decisions about Wyndham’s future development to learn together about what can be achieved in Wyndham.
“Decisions around any council business expense are not made lightly and Wyndham council is open and transparent about costs and outcomes.”
However, the council refused to answer Star Weekly’s inquiry as to whether councillors would be flying business class or in which hotels they would be staying.
Ms Grigsby said all costs incurred on both the Changzou delegation and the UDIA study tour to the US would be reported via the publicly available travel register next month.