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Frequent flier: Salt Lake City mayor is a travelin' man

Published February 17, 2013 9:09 pm

Chief executive • Jet-setting SLC leader spent 93 days traveling on city business in 2012.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Wanted: Top exec who likes to travel, eat in nice restaurants and stay in good hotels. Must fly to many cities around the U.S. and meet with important people, including congressmen and even the president. Will be gone one of every four days. Qualifications: Must be elected mayor of Salt Lake City.

In 2012, Mayor Ralph Becker was on the road — or in the air — 93 days in his official capacity as Salt Lake City's chief executive, according to travel records provided through a state Government Records Access and Management Act request.

At taxpayer expense, he made 17 trips over 73 days to a number of U.S. cities and Vancouver, British Columbia, at a total cost of $27,727.32.

He visited the nation's capital eight times and a host of other cities, including Denver, Los Angeles, New York and Orlando, Fla. He even traveled to Hamburg, Germany, for a National League of Cities trip looking at transportation systems.

He made eight additional trips over 20 days by invitation, where expenses were not borne by Salt Lake City taxpayers.

Becker met with congressmen, including Utah's delegation. He huddled with federal transportation officials, federal environmental officials, including the Environmental Protection Agency, among others, according to City Hall. He also represented Salt Lake City at gatherings of national groups, including the Mayors Innovation Project.

The mayor's city-funded travel is very selective, said his spokesman Art Raymond.

"He has built close relationships with important federal government officials, advocating on behalf of city residents for critical funding and support," Raymond said. "The benefits of this work can be seen citywide and include a $26 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation that is helping build the new Sugar House streetcar line and millions in funding that have aided sustainable-planning programs and energy-efficiency upgrades to city infrastructure."

Becker has served as a member of leadership in the U.S. Conference of Mayors and, in the coming year, he will serve as the second vice president of the National League of Cities.

"Both organizations advocate on a national level for issues important to communities like Salt Lake City," Raymond said.

City Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa said it's important that the mayor travel to meet with federal officials, as well as officeholders in other cities.

"It's incredibly helpful," he said. "The mayor is the sole face of the city to the outside world."

The mayor's interaction with other cities saves Salt Lake City time and money, LaMalfa said, by seeing what has and has not worked elsewhere.

"If we can avoid a $1 million mistake, that $27,000-plus [that Becker spent on travel] is pennies on the dollar," he said. "Traveling to conferences and seeing what other cities are doing is far more valuable than bringing in a consultant."

Former City Councilwoman Deeda Seed, who also served as former Mayor Rocky Anderson's chief of staff, agreed that it's critical for the mayor to build relationships in the nation's capital. She noted that both Anderson and his predecessor, Deedee Corradini, traveled extensively.

"One big source of resources is federal funding. To get it, you must have relationships with those people in Washington, D.C."

Beyond that, Seed said the mayor must travel to bring new business to the city. She warned, however, that although such trips don't add up to junkets, mayors should ensure each trip has potential to bear fruit.

"It's definitely something public officials should be cautious about," she said. "It's all about balance."

csmart@sltrib.com