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Mayor Alvin Brown's office releases details of travel expenses

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on February 15, 2012.

Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown's office released information Wednesday detailing travel expenses picked up by others while the mayor was on official business, some of it coming months after the Times-Union began asking.

Mayoral chief of staff Chris Hand said Brown has had four hotel rooms and one flight paid for by organizations to which he was making presentations.

The rooms and flight were not reported on travel forms, Hand said Tuesday, because the city General Counsel's Office did not consider them gifts. Because Brown was an official participant in the events at which he received rooms, Hand said, city ordinance classifies them as an "expense related to an honorarium event."

Information about honorariums does not have to be filed until July, and then only if they were provided by a lobbyist, according to the general counsel.

When asked why Brown hadn't earlier released the information, Hand said: "He is reporting it to the extent he's required to. What has been done is to follow the advice of counsel."

After releasing the information, Hand said the mayor was doing so ahead of the filing deadline to ensure transparency.

For months, the city's online gift registry did not include who provided the mayor with a flight on a private jet to the Basketball Hall of Fame induction ceremony for former Jacksonville University star Artis Gilmore.

After repeated requests, the information was updated sometime in the last week, showing the $402 flight was provided by Tim Points. Hand contends it was done earlier but a copy downloaded last week did not include the information.

The city paid for Brown's hotel room and rental car for that event, at which he was not an official participant.

The information concerning the hotel rooms indicates the National Urban League paid for Brown's room on a July trip to Boston where he spoke at the group's Salute to Affiliate Leadership Luncheon. The Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce covered the room when the mayor went along on its leadership trip to Houston in September, for which he was listed as a keynote speaker, and the chamber's economic arm took care of all the expenses for a trip to Brazil, during which Brown made several presentations.

Earlier this month, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation covered airfare and a hotel room for Brown to attend an education conference in Seattle.

Brown's travel file included receipts for some trips but not signed travel forms. Other trips were not referenced at all.

In explaining the lack of paperwork for some trips, Hand said Tuesday that no forms are filed if city money was not spent on a trip, such as the trade mission to Brazil and a one-day trip to Orlando where Brown was scheduled to speak at the Florida AFL-CIO State Hall of Fame gala. Brown typically does not seek reimbursement for food or gas when he drives to events.

Wednesday, the city provided forms on three trips not originally in the file. The trips - to Chicago, New York and Washington - cost the city $4,239.

Those trips are part of at least $15,000 worth of city-paid travel the mayor has taken since arriving in office in July.

The most expensive trip for which documentation is included was Brown's attendance at the U.S. Conference of Mayors gathering in Washington, which cost $2,541, including a $600 registration fee and two flights. Brown flew to Washington on Jan. 17 and came back to Jacksonville later that day. He then returned to the conference on Jan. 19 and came back the following day, paying $278 for a hotel. Each of the flights cost $831.

Following that meeting, the conference announced it would hold a meeting on exports and ports in Jacksonville.

"Mayor Brown's travel has already resulted in a $10 million grant to boost our port and a major, job-creating contract to build military aircraft in our community,” Hand said. "His personal advocacy of Jacksonville is showing huge returns on the investment."

At least one other member of the mayor's staff has had a hotel room provided gratis: Tony Hill, the city's federal liaison, had his hotel bill picked up during a three-day trip to Atlanta for the American Dream Convention. The city paid the $513 airline bill for that trip.

Hill appears to have the second-highest travel bill in the administration, spending at least $8,000 since July.

More than half of that amount paid for a weeklong Team Florida trade mission to Johannesburg, South Africa, in November. Hill, a former longshoreman, worked with JaxPort officials who were on the trip to develop new shipping lines between South Africa and Jacksonville.



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This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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