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Editorial: Councilor on wrong track on family vacation tab

“If we are made aware of questionable or potentially improper reimbursement of travel expenditures and expenses, we would move forward with opening an investigation.”

– N.M. Auditor’s Office

It is entirely relatable to bring a spouse along on a business trip. To add a vacation onto the front or back end. To want to show your two grandchildren the world. Even to be so deathly afraid of flying you only travel on land.

But to expect city taxpayers to cover two family cabins on the train to Philadelphia, an extra junket to Washington, D.C., to visit lawmakers who are routinely in Albuquerque and New Mexico, plus a trip to New York in between because it’s cheaper than coming all the way home from Philly and then taking the train again to D.C.?

We call shenanigans on City Councilor Klarissa Peña’s weak justifications for sticking the public with much of her $6,300 summer of 2019 travel tab.

Peña told KOAT-TV Channel 7 that she hasn’t traveled in four years and is deathly afraid of planes. “We don’t have a lot of money. So, I come from where this was a great opportunity to take my grandkids. Obviously my expenses were going to be covered so that would be a reduced cost for my family.” She says she believes she paid for 75% of the trip because she covered her family’s meals, taxis and Uber trips. She says on the city’s website, cabq.gov, that “I made efforts to fold multiple objectives into one trip to the same region of the country.”

Except the only really justifiable trip is the one to Philly, to the National League of Cities, Large City Council Presidents conference, and not via the two family cars with eight beds KOAT reported. There is exactly zero city-business reason to go to D.C. to meet with Sen. Martin Heinrich, Rep. Deb Haaland and Rep. Xochitl Torres Small because they are often here. And there is no logical reason why taxpayers should be expected to pick up any of the New York trip in between.

It’s fine if the councilor wants to add a D.C.-New York trip on as a family vacation – heck they’re in the area, as she notes – but that entire bill should be on her. Not the public.

Peña is no stranger to controversy when it comes to family interests – the boondoggle of the ever-expanding Route 66 Visitor’s Center is supposed to be operated and managed by her husband’s West Central Community Development Group.

That Peña still doesn’t acknowledge it’s flat-out wrong to pass her family vacation bill on to taxpayers puts her judgment into question. Can she be trusted to make decisions on behalf of her constituents? In her note on the city website she writes “I welcome a review of my travel documents and will gladly reimburse any costs determined not in compliance with the City’s Travel Regulations.”

Auditor’s Office, you have been “made aware.”

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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