By Moses Leos III
Concerns over council members using travel stipends to attend a conference in Las Vegas had Mayor Todd Webster attempt to slam the door on the practice.
But Mayor Pro-Tem Diane Hervol thinks removing council members from the conference is “taking a step back in some respects.”
“I think it is very beneficial to the city,” Hervol said about city council members attending the conference. “This is the first I’ve heard any objection to council members traveling. I was concerned about where this was coming from.”
Webster initially brought up the measure during the first budget workshop in March. At the time, Webster informed council that there was no provision that requires a mayor to appoint a council member as a liaison to a committee.
During the budget meeting, economic development staff began planning for the upcoming International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) conference in May. But with the council appointed liaison tabbed to join ED at the workshop, Webster questioned the value.
“I don’t see a huge benefit [for council members to attend],” Webster said. “Maybe there was a huge benefit ten years ago, and there is some benefit now, but it doesn’t have the same value.”
ICSC RECon is a global convention for the shopping center industry. The convention allows retail real estate professionals the chance to network and recruit national retailers.
Discussion on the topic transitioned to the council dais on April 7.
Webster said he was not in favor of council members using stipends to attend ICSC unless it was necessary. He said council members should instead focus “on training time” to attend Texas Municipal League conferences.
He cited a possible need for council members to assist in closing a deal with a retailer.
Since 2010, Kyle City Council members have been allotted a certain amount of funds for city related travel. Kyle Chief of Staff Jerry Hendrix said the money is pooled and can be used by any council member during the year.
He added any travel would have to fall within the city’s guidelines for use. A total of $9,000 was set aside in the general fund for the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.
“This isn’t casting any aspersion on council members that have gone on trips and tried to make an impact on the city,” Webster said on the dais. “But I’ve never been in favor of those kinds of trips.”
Echoing Webster were council members David Wilson, Tammy Swaton and Shane Arabie.
Wilson, who has not attended ICSC even when asked, said he chooses not to go as “it’s on the taxpayer’s dime.”Arabie said Economic Development staff members were better suited for the conference, while Swaton said there were “better ways” to spend the stipend.
However, Arabie and Wilson both believed council participation should be warranted when a deal with a retailer is imminent.
But according to Hervol, she and other council members and former Mayor Lucy Johnson have attended the ICSC conference in the last five years. Hervol said she would advocate for any council member to attend the conference.
In addition, she said funds were approved during the beginning of previous budget seasons for council members to go.
“Quite honestly, the mayor should be going,” she said.
She said on the dais that council members could provide assistance to staff while at ICSC.
“We have seen the fruits of our labor and see the fruits of our labor throughout our city several times over,” Hervol said on the dais. “Not only with the presence of staff attending, but also the mayor or certain council members attending the conference.”
What exactly has come from ICSC?
According to Hervol, IHOP, Applebees, Wendy’s, Popeye’s, Carl’s Jr. are a few of the businesses that have emerged from the conference.
While she said it was difficult to pinpoint staff or council members involvement, Hervol said it was all a collaborative effort.
“It’s not only an effort of the council members attending, but council as a whole supporting council members attending the event,” Hervol said.
Webster maintains he doesn’t see any evidence to support council members’ trips to ICSC.
“I’m not interested in sending council members on vacation,” he said.