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My Turn, Nan Lund: The real cost of a $1,000 plane ticket

Tuesday, May 15, was a sad day for Salisbury. Watching the City Council spend the better part of an hour “discussing” a $1,060.60 expenditure for Mayor Al Heggins to attend an event in Salisbury, England, was dispiriting to say the least.

The facts seem pretty clear. The mayor received an official invitation in her role as representative of the city of Salisbury, North Carolina, to attend the swearing in of the new mayor of Salisbury, England. There is a travel policy which she examined and followed to submit a request for the funds for her airline ticket. There is no prohibition for City Council members to be reimbursed for such travel.

I question whether this should ever have been brought before the council. What is the precedent for expenditures of this amount being on a council agenda? One of the council members repeatedly claimed “this is not about you,” but it seems odd that the only time an expenditure of this magnitude is brought up is when it is being requested by our African-American mayor.

One council member showed great insensitivity by questioning why this was such a big deal since “you have a job and a business and it is only 1,000 bucks.”

This may be true for some families, but it is presumptuous to assume that anyone who is on the council can or should pay for the travel. This raises the offensive “pay to play” issue. Should we have a policy that only those citizens who can afford to pay their own expenses related to council business should apply?

“Precedent” was presented as the relevant issue. Other mayors have not asked for reimbursement for similar travel, including our previous African-American mayor, as one of the council members pointed out as justification for denying this request. If others have chosen to pay for the travel on their own, why is that a precedent? Is the rule that if you choose to use your personal resources to finance your official duties then you can travel? Does that make it a vacation rather than a duty? Some council members indicated that they have chosen to use their personal resources for other “vacations.”

Why do we have a sister city agreement with the English Salisbury? This was established in 2001 as a vehicle for cultural and commercial exchange. The city has spent at least $7,000 since that time to support the relationship. The current council may not agree that this is a worthy project; if not, they should vote to end it. If it is to be maintained, they should recognize that there are costs involved.

I think the citizens of Salisbury should have the opportunity to discuss the merits of having a sister city.

As a member of Women for Community Justice, I must protest the bias that is reflected in the treatment of Mayor Al Heggins and her very reasonable request. She has continued to treat all members of the council civilly and with respect. I can only hope that this will be reciprocal in the future.

Nan Lund is a resident of Salisbury.

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