On Tuesday, the Birmingham City Council approved $25,383.39 in advanced travel expenses for five city employees to attend a conference and air show in London.
According to the addendum item for Tuesday’s meeting, the travel expenses are for three employees to attend the Farnborough-Alabama Department of Commerce and two employees to attend the “Air Show.”
The expense accounts were presented as follows:
[Addendum] Item 27.
A Resolution approving the advanced expense accounts of city employees (Submitted by the Mayor) (Recommended by the Director of Finance)
Johnathan Austin, Councilor, Council, London England, $6,004.35, July 12-19, 2014 to attend The Farnborough-Alabama Department of Commerce.
Kamilah Gray, Committee Assistant, London, England, $6,004.35, July 12-19, 2014 to attend The Farnborough-Alabama Department of Commerce.
Courtney Hunter, Committee Assistant, London, England, $6,004.35, July 12-19, 2014 to attend The Farnborough-Alabama Department of Commerce.
Chuck Faush, Chief of Staff, Mayor’s Office, London, England, $3,431.54, July 11-14, 2014 to attend Air Show.
April Odom, Director of Communications, Mayor’s Office, London England, $3,938.80, July 11-15, 2014 to attend Air Show.
Councilor Lashunda Scales was the lone city council member who abstained from the vote. The other members voted unanimously to approve the resolution.
Mayor William Bell said that by attending the air show, the delegation hopes to court potential aviation industries and bring them to Birmingham.
“The governor is marketing the entire state [in London], and he would like to have participation from the city of Birmingham,” Bell said.
When asked by Scales why there were not any economic development officials attending the air show, Bell asserted that in order to minimize travel expenses, his office would not be sending an excessive amount of representatives.
However, two of Councilor Austin’s assistants, Kamilah Gray and Courtney Hunter, will be accompanying him to the Farnborough-Alabama Department of Commerce, with travel expenses for the two totaling $12,008.70, which accounts for nearly half of the total cost of the trip.
Mayor Bell and the council’s views on these added travel expenses remain unclear, as they did not comment on the subject any further at the meeting.
Several council members, however, did raise more questions regarding the trip. “Have we done any studies that say if we participate or we win the bid, what would be the economic impact that the city could expect?” Scales asked. There was no response from the mayor or any members of his office.
Councilor Valerie Abbott followed by saying, “I’m all in favor of getting more businesses to occupy space in Birmingham. But I want to know what we are using as promotional materials.”
Bell responded, “We will have a major presentation booth,” which prompted Abbott to ask if the council could see the major presentation. Bell then said, “At any time you want to see it,” but did not present any material to the council at Tuesday’s meeting.
“I’d like to see the materials. I’d like to see what we’re promoting, what we’re saying, what we’re handing out. I’ve occupied a lot of booths in my time and we always have handouts or promotional materials. But I realize I probably missed those. I’m sure they exist,” Abbott said, adding that she would like to see the promotional packets before the delegation leaves.
Councilor Kim Rafferty also had questions for the mayor regarding the trip. “I know we are a tier two supplier for the automotive industry. You were talking about supply for other industries. What industries are those and what tier would Birmingham be?” Rafferty asked Bell.
“[Birmingham] will be the second tier. It’s the parts and manufacturing for Airbus,” Bell said. “A lot of those parts will be manufactured here in the United States and supplied to Airbus and [those] will be assembled in Mobile.”
Aside from the chance to become a second tier supplier for the aviation industry in Mobile, Bell said that one of goals of this trip is to attract more international flights to Birmingham. “One of the things I am committed to do is get more actively involved in the airport. … We are trying to coordinate a lot of different things. I think it’s important for the mayor’s office and the council’s office to coordinate those activities and increase commerce in this area.”