AURORA | Mayor Mike Coffman on Monday slammed two Aurora City Council members for taking a “European vacation” earlier this month on the taxpayers’ dime, after Juan Marcano and Crystal Murillo flew to France to attend an urban planning conference.
According to travel records released by the City of Aurora, Marcano and Murillo requested $3,050.24 and $5,535.15 in respective reimbursements for traveling to the International Making Cities Livable Conference in the Paris suburb of Le Plessis-Robinson.
Those amounts could be adjusted during the budget reconciliation process, city spokesman Michael Brannen later said, adding that Murillo’s expenses “could and likely will be” reduced, as she may pay for some or all of her lodging expenses herself.
The event held May 17-May 21 included presentations by planners, economic development experts, developers, activists and others, as well as tours, receptions and dinner events.
On the conference’s website, the focus of the 2022 event was described as “the role of architecture in supporting more active, more connective, more beautiful public spaces, promoting human and planetary health, well-being, and livability.”
Murillo said Monday that she and Marcano also had the opportunity to promote Aurora in front of the area’s chamber of commerce.
But the mayor took aim at Marcano and Murillo for the international excursion, which he called “an insult to the hardworking taxpayers of this city.”
“It’s time for Council Members Marcano and Murillo to understand that we work for the taxpayers of this city and that they don’t work for us,” Coffman wrote in a Twitter post on Monday. “Next time they want to take a European vacation, they can pay for it themselves.”
The mayor wrote in his Twitter post that he would be introducing an ordinance prohibiting council members from using city funds to pay for attending international conferences.
City spokesman Ryan Luby said in a statement that the reimbursements will come out of the $7,000 travel budget afforded to every council member, which may be rolled over into subsequent years.
Coffman’s progressive opponents on the council were quick to accuse him of hypocrisy. In a reply to his post, Councilmember Alison Coombs asked about a delegation Coffman led to El Salvador as part of the Aurora Sister Cities International program, which cost the city $2,350.
She also brought up conservative lawmakers’ trips to Washington, D.C. with representatives from Accelerate Colorado, a local business advocacy group. The travel records shared by the city indicate six council members plan to make a trip with Accelerate Colorado this year, which is expected to cost the city $17,500 in registration fees.
Marcano called the D.C. trip a “wine-and-dine junket” in a Twitter thread responding to Coffman’s comments, accusing the mayor of stoking a controversy to distract from the projected cost of the city’s new unauthorized camping ban.
“It’s clear that Coffman’s problem isn’t the cost to taxpayers. His problem is either that he bears some grudge against France in particular, or that he bears some grudge against me,” Marcano wrote. “This is just another instance of Coffman throwing a tantrum and lying to the public.”
Marcano and Murillo also pushed back against Coffman’s criticisms at the end of Monday’s City Council meeting.
“Aurora is one of the few cities in the country that actually has an office of immigrant affairs, and has an immigrant integration plan, and so to be able to connect and build relationships with another community internationally I think is in our best interest as a city,” Murillo said. “I think it was a really successful trip.”
Marcano said there had been “a lot of hearsay and frankly just lies” spread regarding their trip, which he shared information about via Twitter as the conference unfolded. He later said he was referring to Coffman’s characterization of the conference as a “vacation,” which he said was misleading.
The council member also invited the public to a meeting June 1 at 6:30 p.m., where he said they would recap the trip. He said the meeting will be held either in the council chambers or in the Aurora Room, both at the Aurora Municipal Center.
Luby said in his statement that Marcano and Murillo had “submitted the attached travel records to the city in accordance with the Council travel policy” and that the council members had “previously attended the 2021 IMCL conference, which was held in the Indianapolis area.”