Not just Europe, Aurora council receipts show tens of thousands spent on domestic, international travel

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Aurora City Council members meet with El Salvador officials in El Salvador in September 2021. From left, Ivania Rivera, a member of  SARCO; Aurora City Council members Juan Marcano and Alison Coombs, EL Salvador Vice President Felix Ulloa, Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman and Richard Gambetta of Aurora’s international relations office. SENTINEL FILE PHOTO

AURORA | Mayor Mike Coffman recently slammed travel spending by Aurora City Council progressives as gratuitous — but travel receipts obtained by The Sentinel paint a more nuanced picture of city-funded travel, which all but two councilors engaged in last year.

Coffman is poised to ask city lawmakers to limit travel after making a host of allegations against two members of the city council.

Each year, elected officials spend tens of thousands of dollars trekking across the country and around the world to boost Aurora’s reputation as an international city and search for policy solutions at home.

Along the way, they patronize hotels and restaurants, bedding down and dining on the dime of taxpayers. Council members are reimbursed for their travel from a $7,000-per-person annual travel budget — except for the mayor, who receives $11,000 — and unspent funds can be carried over and spent in subsequent years.

A deputy city manager reviews the travel costs incurred by council members, who are obliged to submit expense reports and receipts within 30 days of their return.

Travel is also a major component of Aurora’s economic engine — in Colorado’s 6th Congressional District, which includes Aurora and a swath of the eastern Denver metro area, domestic and international travelers spent around $2.7 billion in 2019, while an estimated 19,439 workers in the travel industry were paid a combined $841.8 million, according to a report by the U.S. Travel Association.

There have historically been no limits on where council members can travel for city business. But Coffman, who last year led a taxpayer-funded delegation to El Salvador, denounced council globetrotting after learning of council members Juan Marcano and Crystal Murillo’s trip to the Paris suburb of Le Plessis-Robinson for an urban design conference in May.

“I think that international travel for locally elected officials is always suspect,” Coffman opined during the City Council’s June 13 meeting.

Prior to the meeting, the mayor tweeted that it was “an insult to the hardworking taxpayers of this city” for the two to attend “a conference, in Paris of all places,” concluding that the “next time they want to take a European vacation, they can pay for it themselves.”

Marcano and Murillo have defended their trip as a chance to learn more about planning and development, and an extension of previous trips to mundane places like Indiana.

On June 27, the council is scheduled to vote on Coffman’s proposal to require all taxpayer-funded international travel to earn prior approval from six councilors and the mayor, and be at the specific request of either Aurora Sister Cities International or the Office of International and Immigrant Affairs.

Aurora wouldn’t be the first city to focus special scrutiny on elected officials traveling abroad. 

Councilmember Juan Marcano, right, during a conference in May in ​​Le Plessis-Robinson, a suburb of Paris, France. SCREEN SHOT VIA SENTINEL COLORADO

On the subject of out-of-state travel, Arvada’s council policies allow members to attend two National League of Cities conferences per year as well as one other out-of-state conference on the public dime without seeking prior approval from the group. Any other trips outside of Colorado must be pre-approved by the council, including any trip as an envoy to one of Arvada’s sister cities.

Westminster’s rules require council members to give their colleagues a heads-up before taking a reimbursable trip out-of-state. The group can refuse to reimburse a council member “if attendance cannot be shown to support, or be part of, an initiative of the city,” and they must vote affirmatively to let a member take more than two out-of-state trips in a year.

Colorado Springs, meanwhile, requires council members to get the group’s approval before undertaking any reimbursable out-of-state travel.

“This creates transparency (for) the taxpayers about what we’re doing,” Coffman said of his proposed policy.

Marcano and Murillo together requested close to $8,600 in reimbursements for their trip to the 2022 International Making Cities Livable Conference, where they heard presentations by development experts, toured the suburb of Le Plessis-Robinson and promoted Aurora to the area’s chamber of commerce.

“The conference is really about returning to the thousands of years of good urban planning as opposed to the suburban sprawl where people don’t know their neighbors, and you have to commute long distances,” Marcano told The Sentinel in May. He said he and Murillo hoped to apply the information shared during the conference during planning and zoning discussions.

City representatives have said the reimbursement amount is not final and will likely be adjusted down. But council members spent even more on domestic travel in 2021 — a trend that is likely to continue in 2022.

Aurora Democratic Congressperson Jason Crow addresses members of Accelerate Colorado at a luncheon in Washington DC. The trip included several Aurora City Council members. The purpose of the trip is to meet with members of the Colorado congressional delegation and lobby them. Crow spoke to the controversy of Colorado losing Air Force Space Command in Colorado Springs. “Making sure that Space Command is done right – what is in the best interest of national security,” Crow said. PHOTO SCREEN GRAB FROM TWITTER

Cost of Accelerate Colorado trip to nation’s capital cracked $10,000 in 2021

In October, conservative lawmakers joined representatives of business advocacy group Accelerate Colorado, which is affiliated with the Aurora Economic Development Council, on a three-day trip to Washington, D.C.

Costing taxpayers at least $10,500, the lobbying trip by council members Francoise Bergan, Marsha Berzins, Curtis Gardner and Dave Gruber was the most expensive single voyage undertaken by Aurora’s council in 2021.

The trip cost $3,500 a head, though city spokesman Ryan Luby said it was unclear whether Berzins’ trip had been paid for by the city. Attendees had the chance to meet with Colorado’s representatives in Congress and take part in other networking activities.

Councilors Bergan, Gardner, Danielle Jurinsky, Angela Lawson, Steve Sundberg and Dustin Zvonek were all scheduled to return to D.C. earlier this month as part of Accelerate Colorado’s 2022 trip, costing taxpayers $17,500.

Nonpartisan mayoral delegation to El Salvador cost more than $7,000

Before questioning council members’ motives for traveling abroad, Coffman led a troupe of councilors on a four-day mission to the coastal nation of El Salvador.

Aurora has a special relationship with El Salvador and is likely home to thousands of emigrants from the Central American country, according to Census numbers.

In 2017, the government of El Salvador opened a consulate in Aurora, and Antiguo Cuscatlán, near the capital of San Salvador, has been designated an official friendship city of Aurora by the Aurora Sister Cities International program.

Marcano and Councilmember Alison Coombs represented Aurora alongside Coffman on the journey, which was led by Sister Cities International.

Costing $2,350 per person, the El Salvador delegation led by Coffman was the only international trip for which council members sought reimbursement in 2021 and the second-priciest council jaunt overall.

Councilmember Crystal Murillo, center, during a conference in May in ​​Le Plessis-Robinson, a suburb of Paris, France. SCREEN SHOT VIA SENTINEL COLORADO

Indiana conference preceded suburban Paris trip, cost upward of $5,000

The International Making Cities Livable Conference last year touched down in Carmel, Indiana, where progressives Coombs, Marcano and Murillo traveled to gain new insights about urban planning and design.

The city of 100,000 frequently appears on lists of the most livable and safest cities in the U.S., boasting strong schools, low unemployment and well-designed neighborhoods.

After returning from the Hoosier State, the city approved a cumulative $5,034.79 in expenses for the three, including $2,085 in registration fees, $1,248 in airfare, $519 for hotels and around $1,180 on ground transportation, meals and other expenses.

Colorado Municipal League annual meeting June 21, 2022, this year in Breckenridge. PHOTO FROM CML Facebook Page

Conservatives’ Westminster junket cost city more than $3,000 in hotels

Who says you have to travel outside of the metro area to enjoy a taxpayer-funded hotel stay? 

During the Colorado Municipal League’s annual conference in Westminster last year, the city picked up the tab for 14 cumulative nights in area hotels, costing taxpayers more than $3,000.

The Westminster Westin is about a 25 minute drive from Aurora’s City Hall in light traffic — that didn’t stop council members Bergan, Berzins, Gardner and Lawson from each spending three nights there, where they racked up lodging expenses of about $659, $638, $897 and $659 respectively. Gruber spent two nights at the Westminster DoubleTree, which cost about $229.

While Coombs and Marcano also reported expenses stemming from their involvement in the CML conference, they either did not stay in a hotel or did not receive reimbursement from the city for lodging.

In total, factoring in registration fees and other expenses, Aurora City Council members’ attendance at the in-state conference cost taxpayers about $5,670. The league’s 2022 conference was held June 21-24 in Breckenridge.

City lawmakers are slated to consider Coffman’s proposal Monday night. The city council meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.

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john wilson
john wilson
1 month ago

Funny how it is the Democrats that are abusing the travel expenditures….

K. Smith
K. Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  john wilson

You’re not even paying attention to the fact that Coffman is a complete hypocrite here. Or which councilmembers went in the Accelerate trip. You’re just going to keep propagating lies simply because you hate Democrats.

cammy1938
1 month ago
Reply to  K. Smith

agree

sugar
sugar
1 month ago
Reply to  john wilson

How about council members that stayed at the Westminster hotel for three nights instead of just
driving from Aurora.

Doug King
Doug King
1 month ago
Reply to  sugar

yep and who were they? the complaining conservatives: council members Bergan, Berzins, Gardner and Lawson from each spending three nights there, where they racked up lodging expenses of about $659, $638, $897 and $659 respectively.
AND WHO DIDN’T stay at the hotel? Well, those ‘socialist’ democrats! “While Coombs and Marcano also reported expenses stemming from their involvement in the CML conference, they either did not stay in a hotel or did not receive reimbursement from the city for lodging.”
People, you vote the conservatives in because of all their ‘hot air’ and this is what you get……I strongly suggest you read ANIMAL FARM because it is so apropo

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago
Reply to  john wilson

Funny how republicans do it, but then criticize Democrats for doing the same thing. But we get it. And it is not “abuse,” as it is something that is allowed.

Clark
Clark
1 month ago
Reply to  john wilson

Did you even read the article?

Avoiding Racist Harassment
Avoiding Racist Harassment
1 month ago

Just the latest attempt by the GOP wing of the city council to demonize Dems on the local level as they do on the national front. Mike has brought his federal attitude to Aurora. He needs a private sector job instead of collecting public funds. If the liberal candidates didn’t have their heads up their rears with three ppl running, he would not be mayor.

Coffman is mayor by default as are Zvonek the Liar (political affiliation) and that crazy broad who loves the right wing extremist radio.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago

Broad, broad you say? Are you living in the 1920’s? Catch up with the times or better yet change your fake name to Providing Racist Harassment.

Be an American. By the way, we conservatives recognize liberals with “their heads up their rears”, we just don’t recognize them individually.

Doug King
Doug King
1 month ago

I am curious. Nextdoor requires you to use your legitimate real name. And you aren’t ?

K. Smith
K. Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  Doug King

One way or another, Dick is his real name.

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
1 month ago

And not just Aurora, but every town and city in the country, not to mention federal officials. Why this is even a discussion is beyond me. Now, if any governmental entity wants to change this, that body is free to make its own rules, which do not apply retroactively. And by all means, do not criticize someone for doing the same thing you have done.

DICK MOORE
1 month ago

Hey Mayor. As soon as we vote the socialists out of office, other Council members will not have the need to educate themselves out of the USA to study socialist agendas that have nothing to do with how we run the USA and Aurora.

K. Smith
K. Smith
1 month ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

Right. Because it’s people in the minority who are the problem. Always the people who think they’re so smart who aren’t.

Clark
Clark
1 month ago

Someone please explain to me why no one is questioning the huge expenses to Westminster? But if it’s for someone who’s not “on your side” but still legitimately spending money learn or represent the city outside of the metro area it’s a problem? A conservative conference is great, but learning about city planning is not. Ok. Got it. Nothing hypocritical going on at all.

Doug King
Doug King
1 month ago
Reply to  Clark

No, need. Just watch the City Council pass their agenda tonite. That will tell you what is what . They (like the SCOTUS) can do what they like because they have the power now on the council. Just remember Nov is coming……vote blue whenever you can.

Doug King
Doug King
1 month ago

Coffman seeks to end international travel by city lawmakers except for most of the international travel city council members regularly do. And the mayor, who receives $11,000 — and unspent funds can be carried over and spent in subsequent years. Coffman, who last year led a taxpayer-funded delegation to El Salvador, denounced council globetrotting after learning of council members Juan Marcano and Crystal Murillo’s trip to the Paris suburb of Le Plessis-Robinson for an urban design conference in May.

the Aurora Economic Development Council? Councilors Bergan, Gardner, Danielle Jurinsky, Angela Lawson, Steve Sundberg and Dustin Zvonek were all scheduled to return to D.C. earlier this month as part of Accelerate Colorado’s 2022 trip, costing taxpayers $17,500.
WHERE’S THE OUT CRY OVER THIS?????????

Publius
Publius
1 month ago

So traveling to Honolulu or Anchorage would be allowable, but not travel to say Vancouver, which is much closer and may even be a stop over on a flight to Anchorage. Travel to Miami or New York would be allowable but not to Windsor, Calgary, or Montreal, all closer.

Would travel to Puerto Rico, Guam, Palau, or the American Virgin Islands be considered domestic?

My favorite part of the whole debate, the implied slight to Carmel Indiana. I mean it is implied no one would visit there for the amenities, the food, the culture. I hope their City Council prohibits travel of their City Council and staff to Aurora until they recieve a formal apology for being dragged into this dust up.