Birmingham city employees spent $258,387.96 of taxpayer money on travel between Oct. 24, 2017, and July 19, 2019, an analysis of City Council meeting agendas reveals.
Close to three-fourths of that money, $186,011.87, was spent by the Birmingham City Council and its employees; the remaining $71,276.09 was spent by Mayor Randall Woodfin and his employees.
That amount does not include trips for which a final total has not yet been approved. Estimated costs for city-funded trips are approved beforehand by the council; after the trip, the council votes again to approve the actual amount spent. Approximately $40,000 in travel funds have been preliminarily approved, without follow-up, since January.
The most-traveled single city official is District 4 Councilor William Parker, who has spent $32,312.03 since October 2017. He’s followed by District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn ($21,554.04), District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt ($21,540.70), and District 9 Councilor John Hilliard ($12,719.07). Woodfin is the fifth most-traveled city employee, having spent $10,643.76 on travel during his tenure as mayor; his travel spending, however, is self-reported through the city’s website and are subject to council approval.
“We Need the Resources, Bottom Line”
Most of Parker’s 44 trips have had the stated goal of “sports and entertainment recruitment.” Most of his travels, he told BirminghamWatch, were meant to make sure that Legion Field, the 92-year-old stadium in the city’s Graymont neighborhood, “is viable for the next 50 to 100 years, as it relates to looking for additional programming.”
“We have to go out and sell Birmingham,” he said. “That’s one of the duties of the chair of the parks committee, to aggressively go out and pursue opportunities and bring back deliverables.”
Parker’s not the only one using city travel to pursue sports and entertainment recruitment; Hoyt and council administrator Cheryl Kidd traveled to Australia in May to attend the Sport Accord Gold Coast 2019 Summit in Queensland, Australia. Hoyt said the trip — for which he was approved to spend $8,930.07 but only spent $5,403.90 — was intended to help plan for the 2021 World Games, which are slated to take place in Birmingham. Members of Woodfin’s staff — including administrative assistants Traci Bennett, Michael Moore and Faye Oates — have also traveled to sports conferences in San Diego and Tampa.
The city’s budget may soon expand to allow for more sports and entertainment-related travel. Earlier this month, the City Council voted to increase the city’s lodging tax, adding a $3-per-night, per-room surcharge that will be earmarked “exclusively for sports and entertainment recruitment and development, tourism and infrastructure improvements.”
Parker, who spearheaded the ordinance, said it could add $4 million in revenue that would be used for sports recruitment.
“We need the resources, bottom line, if we’re going to stay competitive and grow the city’s economy,” Parker said
BirminghamWatch has compiled a spreadsheet of all confirmed trips taken by city employees since Oct. 24, 2017, the beginning of the current council administration and the date of the earliest council agenda currently available online. The spreadsheet is sortable by date, name, job title (as listed on the council agenda), and amount spent.
The weekly City Council agendas are the only publicly available record of city travel; an official, comprehensive record of city travel is not online.
The spreadsheet shows trips that have had expenses confirmed by the council.
Other trips approved by the council but for which final expenses have not been approved or expense reports were never submitted can be found by clicking the “Unconfirmed/Pending” tab at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Those requests have not been paid, and the trips may have been planned but not taken.
BirminghamWatch will update the data weekly after each council meeting.