With a month left in office, why did Mayor Sly James go to Hawaii on taxpayers’ dime?

Mayor Sly James spent last weekend at the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Kansas City taxpayers paid for the trip. Aloha!

What benefit will Kansas Citians get from the mayor’s lame duck visit to Hawaii? It isn’t clear.

James will be leaving office in less than a month. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for him to share whatever insights the trip provided, or suggest new initiatives based on conversations over poi.

In a statement, the mayor’s office did not point to any specific lessons learned at the Hawaii conference. Instead, a spokeswoman referred to “useful and productive relationships” formed with other city officials at previous meetings of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.

Those relationships “have benefited Kansas City and raised our national profile,” Laura Swinford said.

Perhaps that’s true. If so, Mayor-elect Quinton Lucas should have been a part of the Hawaii trip. “Useful and productive relationships” will soon be his responsibility, not Mayor James’.

Lucas, who will take office Aug. 1, says he was not invited to Hawaii and has not talked with James about the conference. “He did not inform me that he was going,” Lucas said. “I figured it was sort of his swan song trip.”

Mayoral travel is not inherently ill-advised. There are times the mayor needs to represent the city’s interests, in Washington and other cities. Important lessons can be learned by going to other cities, asking questions and hearing opinions.

James traveled to Boston in an effort to attract the 2016 Republican National Convention. He visited Phoenix to watch the All-Star Game the year before it came to Kansas City. From 2016 through the first quarter of 2018, taxpayers spent nearly $22,000 for James’ travel.

Those trips and others can be justified. It is much harder to explain a taxpayer-funded trip to Hawaii just days before James becomes a private citizen.

We don’t know yet how much James’ trip will cost taxpayers. Early registration alone cost $950, and rooms at the headquarters hotel in Honolulu averaged $300 a night. With airfare and meals, the tab could top $3,000.

Last year, the City Council considered and rejected a plan to rein in council members’ travel. The new council should consider requiring written, public reports from colleagues and the mayor whenever they take a trip on the taxpayer’s dime.

And lame-duck junkets should be strongly discouraged, if not prohibited.

For his part, Lucas — who traveled as a councilman to Montreal for an airport conference — says he plans to be judicious about traveling once he takes the oath of office.

“The more you travel, the more you get in trouble,” he said. “Not saying that it’s all bad. In fact, some of it is very useful and necessary... But it’s something we need to keep some track of.”

Taking trips that are useful and necessary seems like the right approach. Unfortunately, Mayor James’ visit to Hawaii falls short of that goal.

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