Wednesday, June 29, 2016

[Solano County] Mayor, vice mayor respond to blistering report on sister city travel

Mayor Osby Davis is adamant that he and Vice Mayor Rozzana Verder-Aliga did the city business while the two traveled to Vallejo’s sister cities in the Philippines and Japan last year.
Davis’ response comes days after the Solano County civil grand jury released a blistering report critical of the travel.
“Spending on trips abroad appears as a frivolous use of money and sends a message to Vallejo citizens as to the Vallejo City Council’s priorities,” the grand jury wrote.
Davis disagreed, stating that the use of money on the Sister City program, along with any associated travel expenses is important to “maintain relationships” between Vallejo and its sister cities.
The grand jury also took issue with Davis and Verder-Aliga voting to approve the travel and the council as a whole approving the $3,100 in travel expenditures.
Davis requested and received $2,098.76 for travel expenses, according to a reimbursement request submitted to the city’s finance department last year.
“Two thousand dollars is certainly not exorbitant,” Davis said.
The council approved about $600 for Verder-Aliga’s travel between the Philippines and Japan but she never submitted a reimbursement request.
“I did not use any city money/public funds for this trip,” wrote Verder-Aliga in an email to the Times-Herald. “All expenses were from my own personal funds. Hotel, lodging, food, domestic travel/transportation were provided by the city of Baguio and the Akashi sister city host families.”
In a 4-3 vote last July — with Councilmembers Robert McConnell, Katy Miessner and Bob Sampayan opposed — the council decided that the proposed trip would have an economic benefit for the residents of Vallejo.
During that council meeting, City Attorney Claudia Quintana stated that it was not a conflict of interest for Davis and Verder-Aliga to vote on the motion.
The report recommends that Quintana provide the council with written “documentation that supports a non-conflict of interest opinion.”
Davis said that the City Attorney’s office provided the councilmembers with an emailed opinion regarding any possible conflict of interest of Davis and Verder-Aliga voting to approve the travel and reimbursements.
However, a representative with the mayor’s office said that a copy of the email could not be released publicly since it’s a privileged document.
Davis said the grand jury was informed about this email but never sought to receive a copy.
 “The grand jury hasn’t done its due diligence,” Davis said. “They had a conclusion already and tried to find facts to fit it.”
He was also critical of the grand jury which noted that Davis and his wife “stayed at an exclusive member-only country club resort.”
Davis said that no city money was spent on their stay at the resort or on his wife during her trip to the sister cities.
In the seven-page report, the grand jury questioned whether the mayor utilized the time to represent the city of Vallejo.
“There is no published record of formal meetings during the tours to discuss economic development opportunities for potential business endeavors,” the grand jury noted. “Or any reference reviewing the highlights of the trip and the objectives achieved in either county.”
The grand jury noted that Verder-Aliga has “also failed to offer a report” on her experiences during the trip.
“During our meetings with Baguio city officials, both mayors discussed the need to strengthen ties with our cities,” Verder-Aliga wrote. “Promote cultural exchange and explore business economic opportunities.”
Verder-Aliga said that the Vallejo delegation’s visit to Japan occurred on a weekend when city offices were closed.
The Vice Mayor also said that she provided a report to the chair of the Sister City Commission, president of the Vallejo Sister City Association and Davis last December.
Both Davis and Verder-Aliga took issue with the recommendation that the Sister City Commission be dissolved.
“Even though the commission is small and plays a minor role in the city of Vallejo’s governance, the current method of selecting and nominating commission members speaks to cronyism and political favor payback,” the report reads.
“That statement is off base,” Davis said. “It’s out of line.”
Davis said there is “no cronyism” when commissioners are selected. He said that the council as a whole selects the members, just like the council does for other city commissions.
“This is one of our most active city commissions and they have worked very hard to help promote our city and maintain good relations with our sister cities,” wrote Verder-Aliga.
Davis said the sister city program fosters better relationships since cities “don’t live in isolation.”
“Our visit was very productive, and I am very thankful for the opportunity to represent our city,” Verder-Aliga said. “Both cities reiterated continuing and strengthening our sister city relationships. This trip was in line with the goals and objectives of our sister city program and the tenets of what sister cities are all about.”
Both Davis and Verder-Aliga are expected to officially respond to the grand jury report.
June 28, 2016
Vallejo Times Herald
By John Glidden

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