Charlotte’s elected officials spent nearly $74,000 in tax dollars over the past year on travel, including some trips and events associated with political organizations that endorsed them.
Democratic Mayor Jennifer Roberts is the city’s leader and spokesperson, but she didn’t spend the most money during fiscal year 2017, which ended in June. Roberts spent $11,625 on travel and expenses.
LaWana Mayfield, a Democrat who represents west and southwest Charlotte, spent $16,403 during the same time period.
Mayfield, who is the city’s first openly gay council member, attended six LGBT conferences and events, costing $4,100.
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At least two of the events were off shoots of political organizations.
In December, Mayfield spent $1,664 in Washington, D.C. at the LGBT Victory Institute National Conference.
The Insitiute shares the same Washington D.C. address as the LGBT Victory Fund, a political organization designed to elect LGBT candidates to local, state and national races. Mayfield’s campaign website says that she has been endorsed by the Victory Fund.
In May, she attended the Victory Fund’s National Champagne Brunch, which cost $372.
City policy does not address whether elected officials can be reimbursed for attending political events.
Mayfield told the Observer that the Victory Fund is a “non-partisan group and training organization that works in policy similar to the National League of Cities.”
The National League of Cities is a lobbying organization that tries to advance the interests of cities nationwide. Charlotte’s elected officials attend numerous conferences held by the NLC.
Roberts attended an Equality NC gala in Raleigh in October, which cost taxpayers $280. Equality NC, an LGBT rights organization, has worked closely with Roberts over the past year to fight House Bill 2.
The group said the gala was held by the Equality NC Foundation, which it said it is non-political. Its affiliated with Equality NC, which is political and supports Roberts.
▪ Democrat Greg Phipps, who represents the University City area, was one of the council’s smallest spenders, with $2,546 in expenses for the year. His spending includes $1,018 on an event in Los Angeles for Samaritan’s Feet, a Charlotte-based non-profit that provides shoes to poor children worldwide.
Phipps said he was invited to California to participate on a panel that Samaritan’s Feet was having. After the Keith Lamont Scott protests and riots, the group had organized an event, Reconcile Charlotte, designed to heal the community. Phipps said he flew to Los Angeles to discuss the event and the protests.
▪ Council member Dimple Ajmera spent $6,199 on travel and expenses in only five months. Ajmera was appointed to the council in late January to fill the seat held by John Autry, who left for a seat in the N.C. General Assembly.
▪ Roberts was one of four city elected officials to attend the Charlotte Chamber’s inter-city visit this year to Dallas. That trip cost $2,468 for the mayor to attend.
Roberts also attended National League of Cities meetings and events; a U.S. Conference of Mayors conference; and flew to Washington D.C. to meet with then U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. In December she attended President Barack Obama’s final White House Christmas party, which cost $670.
In March, Roberts and Phipps went on an 11-day business outreach trip to China.
Their expenses were paid by the Charlotte World Trade Association, a nonprofit, as well as the businesses attending the trip.
▪ The expenses don’t include the council’s annual budget retreat, which was moved to Raleigh this year in an attempt to tie closer relationships with state legislators. The city spent nearly $42,000 on that trip.
The biggest expense was $30,484 for the North Raleigh Hilton. On the opening night of the retreat, the city held a dinner at Sullivan’s Steakhouse for council and members of the Mecklenburg legislative delegation. That cost $2,526.
Council members and the mayor are officially part-time jobs, though many spend 40 hours or more on city business. They do not get rich from their positions.
Council members are paid $26,000 a year along with an annual $3,100 technology allowance. The $26,000 includes $9,700 that’s a car allowance and an expense allowance. The expense allowance is for incidental expenses like in-city mileage.
The mayor makes $41,000 a year, which includes $15,399 for expenses and a car allowance. The mayor gets an annual technology allowance of $3,100.
City Council travel spending
Here is how much Charlotte’s elected officials billed taxpayers in expenses last fiscal year, which ran from July 2016 to June 2017.
LaWana Mayfield: $16,403
Mayor Jennifer Roberts: $11,625
Patsy Kinsey: $9394
Dimple Ajmera: $6,199 (has only served since late January)
James Mitchell: $5,409
Vi Lyles: $5,309
Julie Eiselt: $5,116
Claire Fallon: $4,230
Al Austin: $2,696
Greg Phipps: $2,546
Ed Driggs: $2,471
John Autry: $1,532 (left the council in January)
Kenny Smith: $1,056