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Statement from City Councilor Klarissa Peña Regarding Travel

Councilor Peña shares statement regarding travel during the summer of 2019.

I would like to clarify some of the information that was recently reported by KOAT regarding my City travel last summer.  

First, and foremost, the purpose of my travel was for legitimate City business reasons that are traditionally covered by City travel funds.  These included participating in the National League of Cities, Large City Council Presidents Convening in Philadelphia, PA., and meeting with members of the New Mexico Congressional Delegation in Washington, D.C.  These are customary travel purposes for City Officials and bring value back to our community.

When traveling for business it is not uncommon to have an accompanying spouse and/or family member along to share travel downtime and personal time along the trip.  While that was the case here, please know that the travel, lodging and meals for my family members resulted in no additional cost to the City.  I ensured this by having the City determine the total cost of travel for me alone, and reimbursing me for only that amount.  Accordingly, all of my expenses and reimbursements were in compliance with the City of Albuquerque Travel Regulations (revised May 4, 2015).

I do recognize that the cost of travel in my case was higher because of my need to travel by train instead of by plane.  However, I simply cannot and have not flown for any purpose in 14 years.  Regardless, I was reimbursed only for the amount it would have cost if I were travelling alone.  While KOAT has suggested that the cost of travel even by train could have been less, I can only surmise that this is due in part to their being able to select non-peak travel times as opposed to needing travel accommodations for a specific, non-discretionary timeframe.

Furthermore, the fact that the travel covered multiple stops seemed prudent and economical because it allowed me to accomplish multiple purposes including the conference in Philadelphia, and the meetings in Washington without having to first return to Albuquerque.  Since I do not fly, I view this as a reasonable way to leverage City resources.  The stopover in New York City covered a layover between the close of the conference, and the meeting date I was able to secure with our members of congress, and resulted in less expense than a return home before going to D.C.

I was also able to leverage National League of Cities Resources to cover two hotel nights for the conference in Philadelphia, resulting in the City paying for only a single night at the conference rate.  The fact that this hotel happened to be the Ritz Carleton was not based on my choice – it happened to be the conference hotel.  Likewise, I did not choose my personal accommodations in Washington D.C., and had no control over the price of the hotel.  However, room rates in D.C. are some of the highest around and unfortunately high-priced lodging is usually associated with any trip to the Capital Hill.

I do not take this type of use of taxpayer money for granted.  That is why I made efforts to fold multiple objectives into one trip to the same region of the country, and to leverage outside resources for part of the hotel costs.  Nonetheless, I have asked the City Department of Finance and Administrative Services to review and revise the Travel Regulations to make clear the requirements for train travel and related reimbursement to ensure that they are reasonable and accountable.

I welcome a review of my travel documents and will gladly reimburse any costs determined not in compliance with the City’s Travel Regulations.