A trip to England by all seven Salt Lake City Council members this June sends a bad message to city employees who are being told next year's budget will be lean, according to the head of a union representing city employees.
But City Council Chairman Tom Godfrey said Monday the seven must go to show International Olympic Committee members the city is united behind its bid for the Winter Olympics. The committee will award a site for the 1998 Games at the meeting in Birmingham, England.And Mayor Palmer DePaulis said he wants the entire council with him when the bid is awarded. He noted that all of Atlanta's City Council members were in Tokyo when the 1996 Summer Games were awarded to Atlanta.
"In Tokyo, the IOC representatives paid a great deal of attention to the showing made by local elected officials," DePaulis said through his spokeswoman, Lynn Zimmerman.
The trip will cost taxpayers $18,200. It was approved more than a year ago with little criticism.
Gordon Ottley, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1004, said city employees see the trip as wasteful.
"It doesn't reflect well on their (council members) constantly trying to convince us how broke they are," he said. "That's a lot of money to people like me and like those in our membership. That's a full-salaried position for one of my people for a year."
The mayor recently ordered a hiring freeze because of a tightening budget. The city's next fiscal budget must be finalized in June, the week before the council is scheduled to fly to England. City officials believe Ottley's decision to publicly criticize the trips is little more than a posturing maneuver prior to budget negotiations.
Godfrey said council members decided to limit their trips this year so they could save enough money to go to England. He said each council member has made friends with different members of the Olympic committee. Those committee members will be looking for the council members they recognize, he said.
"This is one of the most important things that's going to happen to Salt Lake City," Godfrey said, referring to the Olympic bid. "It's very important to have council members there manning the hospitality booths."
Godfrey characterized Ottley's comments as unfair.
"They got funding for their pay raises in the same budget," he said. "Even if we saved the money, it wouldn't go into next year's budget. It would have to be lost in fund balances."
Ottley said his union supports the Olympic bid but believes only a few city representatives are needed to attend when the IOC awards the bid.
"We're not going to march on city hall. They just need to know that this is another sore spot for us," he said.