Atlanta Mayor Reed to reimburse South Africa trip with “outside” funds

Mayor Kasim Reed will seek a non-governmental source to reimburse the city thousands of dollars in airfare for a May trip that he and several members of his staff took to South Africa, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Reed, former City Attorney Cathy Hampton, Chief of Staff Candace Byrd, Chief Resilience Officer Stephanie Stuckey and five others flew to Cape Town to talk to that city's leaders about entrepreneurship, Atlanta's entertainment business and urban development issues. The mayor has called Cape Town a "strategically important international partner for the city."

Business-class airfare for the trip cost close to $60,000. The total bill to the city, including hotels, meals and travel expenses in South Africa, was close to $90,000.

City code allows only the mayor to travel business class, but Reed’s office said staff can also on international flights if approved by a commissioner or department chief.

Reed anticipated outside financial support when he authorized business-class travel for trip participants, the city spokeswoman said, adding that he never intended for taxpayers to foot the full cost of business class airfare.

Reed’s response come after news outlets, including Channel 2 Action News, criticized the spending and what they considered stalling from the mayor’s office in releasing expense reports, which were first sought in early May.

Harvey Newman, professor emeritus at the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University, said there are benefits to city leaders traveling abroad and to other cities in the United States. Leaders learn best practices from others, can foster trade agreements and act as ambassadors for local corporations, such as Coca-Cola or Delta Air Lines.

But he said a city must be judicious in making sure those involved have a purpose for going.

“I can see both side of this,” he said. “I’m sure we developed great partnerships there. But I would have to question the number of people.”

Reed's office said in a statement that six of the 10 fastest growing economies in the world are in Africa and that the mayor has been trying for two years to woo South Africa leaders to make Atlanta the preferred gateway to the Americas. He's taken a trip to Johannesburg and last year Cape Town Mayor Patricia De Lille came to Atlanta.

The mayor’s office also pointed out that Atlanta was ranked by FDI Intelligence Magazine as a top world city for foreign direct investment.