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City leaders visit Spain on taxpayer dime

Courtesy City of San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO - Ten city employees including the mayor and five council members took a weeklong trip to Spain and the Canary Islands, and you paid for it at a cost of nearly $70,000.

Taxpayers footed the bill for their airfare, hotels and meals at a cost of nearly $7,000 per person, according to a city spokesperson.

City council faces pressing issues like drawing up a new budget and hammering out a contract with the police union. So the trade mission to Spain is now drawing criticism from some taxpayers, including a former council staffer.

"The issue is not necessarily trade missions generally. It's sending so many council members on one trade mission," former staffer T.J. Mayes says.

Three city council members who were part of the delegation told us on camera what they accomplished on your dime.

"In seven days I had seven flights and four different hotel rooms, so we weren't just leisuring around or laying on the beach," district 2 Councilman Alan Warrick says.

We asked him how the trip benefits his constituents on the city's east side.

"We're hoping to bring businesses back to district 2," Councilman Warrick says. "There were some automobile parts manufacturers that are looking at having some synergies with what Toyota's doing here in town."

Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran's south side district 3 includes four historic missions recently designated as United Nations World Heritage Sites, so she visited two World Heritage Sites in Spain.

"To see how their visitor centers operate, their signage and how they engaged with the community around and how they engaged with visitors," Councilwoman Viagran says.

The delegation also delivered an invitation for the King of Spain to attend San Antonio's Tricentennial celebration in 2018.

District 1 Councilman Roberto Trevino says these trade missions reinforce our relationships with the world's movers and shakers.

"If we want to be globally competitive, we need to have global relationships. And this is what it takes," he says.

District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez told us by phone the delegation also secured financial donations to help pay for the Tricentennial.

Mayor Ivy Taylor told us by phone the leaders met with several companies interested in investing in San Antonio. She pointed out the deal to bring the Toyota manufacturing plant to town was brokered through a series of similar overseas trips.

District 5 Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales, the sixth elected leader on the trip, was not available for comment.

By EMILY BAUCUM

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