EVANSVILLE — A local delegation led by Mayor Lloyd Winnecke will visit Osnabruck, Germany — one of Evansville’s three sister cities — May 8-13.
Every Evansville mayor has been to Osnabruck since the sister city relationship began in 1984. Local government officials also have toured Tochigi City, Japan, another Evansville sister city. A third relationship, with Tizimin, Yucatan, of the United Mexican States, started in 2011.
Winnecke said he will pay his own travel expenses and those of his wife, Carol McClintock. According to Winnecke’s office, other area residents confirmed for the May trip are University of Southern Indiana President Linda Bennett and her husband, Steve Bennett; Drs. Mike and Maria Hoover; and Steve and Jackie Griese. Thursday is the deadline for interested parties to make a deposit.
No Evansville City Council members have signed on to go to Osnabruck. Council President Connie Robinson — who in the 1990s was part of a delegation that went to Tochigi City — said she recently emailed colleagues to gauge interest in the Osnabruck trip, but thus far, there have been no takers.
The 2013 city budget includes a total of $10,500 for sister city-related expenses. Robinson, D-4th Ward, said that despite the presence of those funds, she advised council members to pay their own expenses, or host a fundraiser, if they were interested in going.
But Robinson added that sister city trips have value. She said her visit to Japan with then-Mayor Frank McDonald II had a heavy economic development emphasis.
That’s also a reason for the May trip to Osnabruck, Winnecke said.
Past visits to Osnabruck have resulted in the establishment of a students exchange program between University of Osnabruck, the University of Evansville and USI, and programs involving philharmonic orchestras and libraries in the two cities, Winnecke said.
City Council Finance Chairman John Friend, D-5th Ward, said he thought it was unusual that the $10,500 set aside for sister city expenses was placed in the County Option Income Tax budget and not the City Council’s and Mayor’s budgets.
Friend said he has apologized to council colleagues for overlooking the line item during hearings on the 2013 budget, and he will ask to get the funds transferred.
“It has the look as though they were trying to hide it,” Friend said. … “Of course people in this town are going to go crazy if they thought local officials were going on some junket. It was really an unusual and unfortunate thing that it got in there.”
City Controller Russ Lloyd Jr. said he placed the sister city item in COIT because of that account’s flexibility.
Winnecke and Lloyd said funding labeled “sister city” in the city’s budget is not necessarily for travel, but also for costs associated with hosting delegations from Osnabruck or Tochigi City.
Lloyd, who was Evansville mayor from 2000-03, led delegations of about 20 people to both Osnabruck and Tochigi City during his term. Two city council members were on each trip.
Lloyd said he recalls the city paying for his travel expenses on those trips, although he paid for his wife’s expenses.
It would not be inappropriate for the city to pay for an official business trip by the mayor, Lloyd said.
Winnecke, however, said he is choosing to pay “100 percent” of his expenses to Osnabruck as well as his wife’s “because we are in a position to do that and that was our intention from Day One.”
Robinson said her email to city council members in December pointed out the presence of “sister city” funds in the 2013 budget but added that “I did not think the taxpayers would not want us to use the money that way, and the mayor was going to use his personal funds.
“My suggestion was that any members who want to go use their own personal funds. That’s what I did in 1997.”