Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant says the city shouldn’t be spending thousands of dollars in public funds for several councilmembers to attend a business conference at a mountain resort this week.
The practice smacks of “corporate favoritism” because the annual conference includes speeches by business executives and schmoozing with lobbyists, Sawant says.
Councilmembers Tim Burgess, Nick Licata, Sally Clark, Sally Bagshaw, Tom Rasmussen and Bruce Harrell signed up to attend the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Regional Leadership Conference at Suncadia Resort in Cle Elum, Kittitas County.
“Such networking by elected officials with big business is nothing other than service provided in return for campaign funds, while ensuring future career opportunities,” Sawant said in a news release Wednesday. “And let’s be honest – they are also taking down their next marching orders from the Chamber.”
Each of the councilmembers who signed up was allocated up to $1,350 from the council’s travel budget for registration, meals and lodging associated with the Oct. 15-17 conference, according to Eric Ishino, finance manager for the city’s Legislative Department.
The travel budget, $30,200 this year, was set by the council’s president, Burgess, with the money coming out of the city’s general fund. Burgess didn’t comment Thursday.
Mayor Ed Murray spent time at the conference Thursday. His press secretary didn’t immediately comment.
Sawant and councilmembers Jean Godden and Mike O’Brien didn’t sign up to attend the retreat. O’Brien declined to comment Thursday when asked about it.
Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party, says her colleagues left City Hall at a bad time because the council is this month reviewing Murray’s proposed 2015 and 2016 city budget.
The council’s budget committee isn’t holding any meetings this week. It held its first public hearing on Oct. 7 and will hold a second on Oct. 23. Licata chairs the committee.
The dates of the conference are marked on the committee’s calendar with the label “Chamber Retreat.”
The Chamber titled this year’s conference, “Next Steps on Global Cities,” saying it would focus on advancing Seattle’s global brand and increasing the city’s foreign direct investment, among other topics.
The Chamber has hosted the conference since 1987. This year’s “presenting sponsor” was the consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, and some of the other corporate sponsors were Chase, Boeing, Alaska Airlines, BSNF Railway, Microsoft and Expedia.