Mayor Dave Cieslewicz drew flak last April for touring Europe's bike-friendly cities. The trip was paid for by Bikes Belong Coalition, a bicycle-industry group that promotes biking.
Shortly after the mayor returned from Amsterdam, former Ald. Brenda Konkel wrote a letter to the city's Ethics Board, asking, "How is this not a violation of the ethics law"?
City Attorney Michael May wrote in response that the Ethics Code "allows a person to accept reimbursement 'on behalf of the city'" because "there is no personal benefit to the individual at all."
But, he added, "I do believe that this section of the code needs some clarification."
This week, Ald. Mike Verveer - who sits on the Ethics Board - introduced an ordinance to do just that. The proposed changes would allow city officials to go on trips paid for by third parties, but they would be subject to the city's travel regulations and spending limits.
"They couldn't fly first or business class, or spend a lot on meals, or stay in a five-star suite," says Verveer. "If there's a cost that's not allowable, the city official would have to eat that."
Under the proposal, the city comptroller's office would bill the third party for approved trips and reimburse the official for any expenditures. This would allow the public to know exactly how much has been spent, which is not the case with the mayor's European trip.
Bikes Belong financial officer Erik Esborg did not immediately know how much was spent on the trip, in part because other organizations helped fund it. Neither did the mayor's spokeswoman, Rachel Strauch-Nelson.
Currently, third parties are required to file a letter with the City Clerk's Office when they pay for expenses of city employees. As of early this week, the office had not yet received a letter from Bikes Belong.