The city of Murrieta will foot the bill for Mayor Rick Gibbs’ travel to China in April, it was decided this week.
The trip, which is expected to cost approximately $2,500, according to Gibbs, was approved 4-1 Tuesday night by Murrieta City Council, with Councilman Harry Ramos dissenting. The vote was part of a larger discussion about the city’s international travel policy.
The policy, on the other hand, was approved 5-0.
Councilman Randon Lane, who was invited to go on a separate trip to represent the city during a trade show in Shanghai, China in March, was the one who initially requested more information as to whether the city had such a policy.
Lane said he thought travel guidelines were important to the community if money was going to be spent.
City Manager Rick Dudley agreed and said they have to be careful not to violate state gift laws, which could occur if elected officials were to travel at the expense of private parties.
It was decided in a previous meeting that the council’s International Relations Subcommittee, which consists of Gibbs and Bennett, should take up the issue.
The subcommittee then met and drafted a policy that sets out a number of guidelines. Most importantly, it calls for an explanation of the specific benefit that proposed travel would bring to the city.
The policy also states that elected officials may accept travel expenses from nonprofits, public or private educational institutes, and other governmental agencies foreign or domestic, without violating state gift laws.
If a private entity extends an invitation, it must be for an unnamed city staff person; however all requests for travel must be submitted on agency letterhead. When requests for an unnamed staff member are received, the city manager may designate who attends though it can not be an elected official, the city manager, the city attorney or the city treasurer.
A discussion of Gibbs’ and Lane’s proposed trips followed council’s adoption of the policy Tuesday.
Lane was invited by Murrieta-based USA Continental Regional Center, which has federal designation to help foreign investors obtain citizenship through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services' EB-5 program.
The center’s co-founder, Al Rattan, asked Lane to accompany him to the EB-5 trade show in Shanghai; however, Lane said he had a schedule conflict and could not attend.
It was just as well, because some council members did not agree the trip would be as beneficial to the city as Gibbs’ 14-day trip to three, possibly four Chinese provinces in April.
“Having been on an EB-5 trip, I wouldn’t bother going on another. Send a city staff person,” said Gibbs, referring to a trip he took to China in 2011.
Concerns were also raised about the logistics of Lane's trip, such as whether he would have been able to obtain a visa in time.
Gibbs said his upcoming trip would be “truly about direct foreign investment,” though he could not yet divulge the details of what that could mean for Murrieta. He said he will be “meeting with provincial officials to essentially promote this region as an area for development.”
He said he also plans to visit officials in Shaoxing County. The city and Shaoxing entered into a memorandum of understanding in 2011 in an effort to increase trade, culture and education between the two regions.
He expects the trip to cost the city $2,500: $1,200 for airfare, another $1,000 for lodging when he is not being hosted by Chinese officials, and about $100 for meals when he is not being entertained.
Though there was no funding budgeted for international travel this fiscal year, the city manager said if council found his trip appropriate the city “would certainly find the money.”
Councilman Ramos voted against the trip. He said voting on it the same night the policy was approved did not allow enough time for the trip to be thoroughly vetted. He said it went back to his “beliefs about the role of government” and expressed concern about problems “when you start crossing public and private sectors.”
Gibbs made it clear his role was to serve as an elected official, noting Roy Paulson of Temecula-based Paulson Manufacturing would be on the same trip. Gibbs said he may also meet up with Temecula City Councilman Jeff Comerchero while in the China. The councilman is expected to be there during the same time frame, Gibbs said.
Rattan was thanked for the invitation he extended to Lane. He'd offered to pay for his travel, which would not have been permitted under the new policy.
“...It seems like he is doing his best to reach out to council and get us engaged,” Lane said. “...We have an opportunity with this EB-5 program.”
Council agreed it would be beneficial for each of them to eventually represent the city abroad.
Councilman Alan Long said the new policy was well thought out, and related the discussion to seizing rare opportunities.
“...Over a drink my dad traded for land here (in Murrieta) for his land in Mission Viejo,” Long said. “He saw two boons and was able to develop two subdivisions...I think I relate these types of trips to that.”
Long made another point: that existing local businesses should not be forgotten.
“We need to invest an equal amount of time,” Long said.