A trip by longtime Monterey City Manager Fred Meurer to a sister city in Croatia generated a call by City Councilwoman Nancy Selfridge for formal city policies on sister-city expenses.
Meurer, who is retiring this summer after 25 years with the city, is visiting Dubrovnik, one of Monterey's seven sister cities in Asia and Europe.
The city manager paid for his travel expenses and is using vacation time while on the trip, Mayor Chuck Della Sala said Tuesday.
"I don't know what the issue is," Della Sala said.
Selfridge said she didn't know about the trip until she received a Jan. 29 email from the city manager's office notifying her that Meurer was traveling to Croatia to represent the mayor at a sister city event.
Selfridge, who has traveled to sister cities in Turkey and Azerbaijan while on the council, said other members of the council should have been given the chance to represent the city in Croatia.
Her concern grew when she received a Feb. 1 email from City Attorney Christine Davi that indicated Meurer would be receiving his straight city pay during the trip rather than taking vacation time.
Subsequently, Della Sala assured her the city manager would be using vacation time, Selfridge said.
"If he is on vacation, that is fine," she said. "If he is paying for his own way, he can go anywhere he wants."
In her email, Davi said city staff members were unable to find written council policies governing sister cities, but dug up council minutes and staff reports from past years underscoring "these relationships are not intended to have budget implications.
Monterey's sister cities are: Dubrovnik; Kusadasi, Turkey; Lankaran, Azerbaijan; Nanao, Japan; Trapani, Italy; Tainan City, Taiwan; and Lerida, Spain.
The sister-city program, established in the United States during the 1950s, is designed to pair U.S. cities with cities worldwide to enhance social ties, economic relationships and cultural understanding. Typically, they involve delegations from each city visiting the other from time to time.
Selfridge is a believer in the program, recalling a parade in Kusadasi, Turkey, where "there was a banner with Monterey, USA. We were representing the (United States)."
"We are dealing with world peace, helping our residents learn about the rest of the world," Selfridge said.
Selfridge said her trips cost the city nothing.
"I had to swear on a stack of bibles I wouldn't spend a dime of city money," she said.
But a city staff member who accompanied Selfridge to Turkey last fall, while paying for travel expenses, received regular pay during the trip. That bothered Selfridge, and the same issue appeared to be cropping up with Meurer's trip, she said.
"We really need to have a policy," she said.
Similar budget issues crop up when delegations from sister cities visit Monterey. Invariably there are city costs involved.
"This is stuff we need to get cleared up before we hire a new city manager," Selfridge said.
Della Sala said Selfridge should bring the issue up at a council retreat later this month.
"I understand why she is thinking along those lines," he said.
For many years, the city had only two sister cities. As new ones were added, Della Sala said, "the council basically agreed to take them on, but to make sure we are not paying for expenses."
Della Sala said he made two trips to sister cities — in 2007, to Croatia and Japan. The Dubrovnik trip was paid for by the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Nanao trip — airfare, food and lodging — was paid for by the host city, he said.
"We get requests from other cities regularly and just have to say no," Della Sala said.
Larry Parsons can be reached at 646-4379 or email@example.com.