Sunday, February 24, 2008

Public Leadership & the Public Purse

The travels of public leaders to premier vacation destinations a long way from home, have long been a source of criticism and the weighing of results, along with the lack of focus on local issues, are legitimate concerns that deserve study.

Mayor's travels draw criticism
Far-flung trips called unneeded, unfruitful
By Terri Hardy -
Published 12:00 am PST Sunday, February 24, 2008

As part of her quest to make Sacramento the greenest city in the country, Mayor Heather Fargo has seen the world, traveling to London, Alaska, Paris and other far-flung locations to study the impacts of global warming.

Since October 2005, she's traveled nearly 124,000 miles on 25 trips – 20 of them to climate change conferences or meetings where the environment was prominent on the agendas, city records show.

Though many of those miles were traveled in the name of conservation, Fargo's journeys created about 25 tons of carbon emissions, based on Sacramento Municipal Utility District estimates – only a small portion of which were offset by sponsoring organizations.

And while Fargo said she sought out sponsored trips, the travel nonetheless cost taxpayers at least $44,000, for Fargo and occasionally for accompanying city staff members. It took Fargo out of Sacramento 135 days, causing her to miss 16 of 113 council meetings – 14 percent.

Some environmental experts question the necessity for journeying so far afield. And while some of Fargo's peers say she's emerged as a leader in the push toward a more environmentally conscious Sacramento, local environmentalists complain that Fargo hasn't shared innovative ideas culled from her trips and has failed to show leadership on some key local environmental and land use decisions.

Graham Brownstein, executive director of the Environmental Council of Sacramento, said disillusionment among local environmentalists grew after the mayor's recent State of the Downtown address on greening the central city. In her comments, Fargo advised citizens to lower their carbon emissions by walking more and getting rid of incandescent light bulbs.

"She seemed so completely detached about the reality of the scope of challenges we face with global warming, that it was almost beyond comprehension," Brownstein said. "Is that all she learned at those conferences? What else is there other than light bulbs?"

Fargo said her trips have resulted in important local environmental advances, including the creation of a city blueprint to cut energy use and greenhouse gases, called the Sustainability Master Plan.

And she said the conferences have allowed her to gather information, fight for funds and advocate on important issues, such as flood control and eminent domain. They also allow her to make and maintain relationships and raise her profile, she said, including on environmental issues.

"When I evaluate whether or not to travel, I look at what's good for the city and whether there's a benefit that makes sense, both in (terms of) my time and city resources," Fargo said. "I meet other mayors and talk about what cities need to do and can do."