Councilmembers Bates and Booze recently returned from a 15-day sister-city trip to China and Japan paid for by Richmond taxpayers, nine days of which was spent not in sister cities but visiting the great tourist attractions of China in and around Shanghai, Suzhou, Xian and Beijing. See Richmond Confidential article that follows.
I am a big fan of sister city programs, and clearly, Bates and Booze had a good time, but with their recent and strident criticism of the eminent domain initiative that, according to City Manager Bill Lindsay, may have cost the City $30,000 this year in savings on a bond issue, it puzzles me how they can justify a $36,000 expenditure for a taxpayer supported jaunt that took them thousands of miles beyond our sister city, Zhoushan, to Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, the Great Wall and Temple of Heaven near Beijing and the world-famous Terra Cotta Warriors and Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian.
City regulations call for City Council approval of international travel, so on October 1, 2013, the City Council passed F-13, AUTHORIZE Councilmember Bates to lead a delegation of public officials to Zhoushan, China to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Richmond-Zhoushan Sister City Relationship and Shimada, Japan to officiate at the sister city activities at the Obi Festival. Total cost is $35,000 (Councilmember Bates 620-6861).
However, the expenditure for the trip of $36,120 was quietly approved and a check written to Friends of Zhoushan two months prior to city Council approval on July 30, 2013, for Japan and China expenses of six people. Item F-13 that was approved by the City Council on October 1 described a sister city trip to Shimada and Zhoushan but said nothing about trips to Shanghai, Suzhou, Xian and Beijing. It also included among the six, Bill Lindsay, who did not go. The five who did go are Nat Bates, Corky Booze, Ed Medina, Jim Matzorkis and Lucy Zhou. There is no record indicating that the City Council also authorized trips to Shanghai, Suzhou, Xian and Beijing, to be paid for by taxpayers. Payment for the trip made prior to the October 1 approval is also a violation of the $10,000 expenditure limit in the Charter.
Other than a one-page summary of expenses covered by the check to Friends of Zhoushan, there is no record of detailed expenses and no receipts. Friends of Zhoushan appears to be a California non-profit corporation, but records indicate that it is not up to date on filings with the IRS and State of California and may be suspended. Friends of Zhoushan is listed in http://www.guidestar.org/organizations/26-3274831/friends-zhoushan.aspx but has not filed a Form 990 with the IRS. It is not listed with the Attorney General.
It is also unclear how Council members were able to exceed their $5,000 annual budget for travel and conferences. At a cost of $5,760, both Bates and Booze exceeded by $760.00 each the $5,000 budgeted for each Councilmember for Fiscal Year 2013-14.
In addition, Booze racked up the following charged on his City credit card that further exceeded his $5,000 budget by an additional $1,168.70:
- $23.60 for chocolates
- $142.60 for gifts
- $529.50 for laundry
- $473.00 for excess baggage
Booze is quoted in the Richmond Confidential article as describing the trip as “strictly business” and successful in “relationship building.”
Richmond officials mix business and pleasure in China
Richmond council member Corky Booze (right), met with Someya Kinuyo, mayor of Richmond's sister city Shimada, during the Obi Festival in Japan. (Photo courtesy of Corky Booze)
By Leo ZouPosted 24 minutes ago
When Richmond representatives visited China and Japan they made it a 15-day trip. That expedition was, in the words of Councilman Corky Booze, “strictly business.”
It’s clear that the delegation did conduct some business. But Booze and four other Richmond officials–Councilmember Nat Bates, Police Deputy Chief Edwin Medina, Port Director Jim Matzorkis and Operations Manager Lucy Zhou–also made the most of this long journey by doing something fun.
Photos and records from the trip make it clear that for at least five days the delegation was sightseeing. On October 19 the delegation visited Suzhou a popular Chinese tourist city famous for its exquisite gardens. The delegation then flew 900 miles to Xi’an, another historic city to visit world-famous Terra Cotta Warriors and Wild Goose Pagoda, according to the itinerary of the trip.
From Xi’an, the group then flew another 700 miles and landed in China’s capital Beijing for two days before wrapping up the half month trip that cost the city $36,120, the invoice showed. What did they do in Beijing? Tour Tiananmen Square, tour Forbidden City, tour Great Wall, tour Temple of Heaven and shopping, the itinerary showed.
“I had a wonderful trip,” Booze said, as he settled back into his seat at his office and apologized for his messy desk, stacked with files and documents. “The reason for this trip is to commemorate the 20th anniversary sister city relationship with Zhoushan in China and attend Obi Festival in Japan,” he said. “We are also trying to bring port business from China to Port of Richmond. ”
Booze spoke about his trip with passion. He hailed the warm hospitality he received along the way and eagerly dug out a Japanese newspaper that featured a picture of Richmond delegates, dressed in traditional blue Japanese robes, playing tug of war at an Obi Festival in Shimada, on of Richmond’s sister cities.
“Getting invited to this festival is huge,” Booze said. The Obi Festival is a traditional cultural event held every three years.
For Booze, it was just the beginning of a series of eye opening experiences. During the two-hour long interview, Booze repeatedly marveled at his discoveries: the speed of China’s construction, the ubiquitous security cameras, the low unemployment and crime, the lack of toilet paper in restrooms and the night market open until 2 a.m.
Another cultural discovery took place at a Kentucky Fried Chicken in China. Booze said he tired to order a box of ten Chicken wings, but instead the restaurant gave him ten separate bags, each containing one wing.
“They don’t do value meals over there. You buy individually. Their whole culture is totally different,” Booze said, with a big laugh, “it was really interesting and I kind had to chuckle.”
He defended the sightseeing and said what he observed along the way was a valuable learning experience that will help him better improve the city of Richmond. “The style of people living there makes me think how I can make the style of living here better,” he said.
Aside from traveling, the group also took advantage of the trip to seek business deals and meet government officials.
The delegates met with officials from sister city Zhoushan and received updates on a memorandum of understanding, which they expect to be signed by the end of the year, said Port Director Matzorkis, a member Richmond’s delegation.
The two cities have spent several years negotiating the memorandum, which could open doors for both sides to build a joint-venture company in Zhoushan.
The delegation also paid a visit to the project of a real estate developer identified as Mr. Wu, who is looking to develop a multimillion-dollar residential neighborhood on a waterfront property in Point Richmond.
Although they reached no immediate deals, Booze attributes the potential projects to years of relationship building.
“Before 2006 we had no business intention with them,” Booze said, but now there are preliminary plans to work together on several projects. “Would that happen if we hadn’t set up the relationship?”
“I will never, ever stop that,” he said resolutely, pausing after each word.