KCBD INVESTIGATES: Thousands of your tax dollars pay for council trips to Japan

KCBD INVESTIGATES: Thousands of your tax dollars pay for council trips to Japan

LUBBOCK, TX (KCBD) - It could be described as a trip of a lifetime and Lubbock taxpayers are helping foot the bill.

Every year, about $25,000 from the city's general fund is set aside for our sister city program with Musashino, Japan.

Lubbock council members tell us about 30 years ago, Lubbock Mayor Alan Henry and the Mayor of Musashino, Japan met at a Texas Tech football game.

That conversation formed a relationship between the two cities.

Within time, students, elected officials, and city staff were making trips to Japan.

"They were more excited than I was," said former city councilman Paul Beane.

Beane joined Lubbock City Council in 2008.

"They were telling me, 'Oh now you get to go to Japan on the taxpayer's nickel.' Well, at that time there wasn't many nickels lying around city hall," Beane said.

In 2008, we were right in the midst of the Great Recession

"I told them if I wanted to go to Japan well I would go to the airport and buy me a ticket," Beane said.

The city budgets about $25,000 every year for the sister city relationship that now includes the Junior Ambassador Exchange program.

Musashino and Lubbock take turns on alternate years sending city officials and students to visit for a week.

The KCBD Investigative Team went through expense reports to see just how those tax dollars are spent.

The students raise money for their passports, airfare, and spending money, but taxpayers cover the airfare for Lubbock staff and council members.

Money from the general fund is also spent on gifts and etiquette courses.

Once the group arrives in Japan, the City of Musashino covers the rest of the costs like meals, ground transportation and a hotel, which is what the City of Lubbock does when they come here.

According to the City of Lubbock's expense reports, over the last ten years, the city has spent nearly $180,000 on this program.

That number may not seem like much considering the city's combined budget this year of more than $700 million, but the fact remains that the taxpayers are footing the bill.

Japan Trip ExpensesWe asked Beane if he feels differently about the program now that the city is in a different financial situation.

"I have not been able to point to a single incident where these trips have benefited these taxpayers," Beane said.

It is a question we took to Assistant City Manager Mark Yearwood; this will be his sixth trip to Japan.

"There are ideas of exchange," Yearwood said.

For example, Yearwood said the city's relationship with Musashino put Lubbock in the running for a windmill manufacturing company for LEDA, but he said the city ultimately lost out on the deal.

"There have been other ideas that have exchanged. One year we took tours of their incineration plant," Yearwood said.

"There was good exchange of how that might work here and why it might not be economically feasible," Yearwood said.

Councilwoman Karen Gibson is serving as the delegation leader this year.

This will be Gibson's second trip to Japan.

We asked Gibson if they exchange ideas with Musashino delegates.

"I would say minimal because the language barrier is so strong," Gibson said.

"I think it's more of a goodwill type thing," Gibson said.

"I've heard all of the arguments on how it is often described as a trade mission that being the case then the Chamber of Commerce, LEDA and Market Lubbock should be going to Japan and not members of the city council," Beane said.

This year, the sister cities are celebrating their 30th anniversary.

In addition to the City of Lubbock sending four adult chaperones to Japan with the students, the city will also pay for seven more adults to make that trip.

Not all of those adults are council members or city staff.

The city is using money from the general fund to send three spouses to Japan this year as well.

Lubbock has also extended an invitation for 10 adults from Musashino to visit Lubbock next year.

Musashino will cover the airfare, but the City of Lubbock will pay for everything once they arrive.

Attendees on Japan Trip 2006-2016 (staff & council)

Brooke Witcher - Special Events Coordinator
Quincy White - Assistant City Manager
Ruby White - Chaperone
Thomas Adams - Deputy City Manager
Debra Adams - Chaperone
Brooke Witcher - Special Events Coordinator
Floyd Price - Council member
Lee Ann Dumbauld - City Manager
Mark Yearwood - Assistant City Manager
Kim Yearwood - Chaperone

Brooke Witcher - Special Events Coordinator
Todd Klein - Council member
Mark Yearwood - Assistant City Manager
Randy Truesdale - Chaperone
Dawn Truesdale - Chaperone

2009 (trip occurred in 2010)
Brooke Allison - Special Events Coordinator
Quincy White - Assistant City Manager
Ruby White - Chaperone
Mark Yearwood - Assistant City Manager
Andy Burcham - Chief Financial Officer
Kayla Burcham - Chaperone

Sarah Hensley - Jr. Ambassador coordinator
Karen Gibson - Council member
Mark Yearwood - Assistant City Manager

Sarah Hensley - Jr. Ambassador coordinator
Latrelle Joy - Council member
Jim Gerlt - Council member
Quincy White - Deputy City Manager
Ruby White - Chaperone
Mark Yearwood - Assistant City Manager

2016 Jr. Ambassador delegation
Piata Bryant - Jr. Ambassador coordinator
James Urban - Jr. Ambassador coordinator
Karen Gibson - Council member (delegation Leader
Mark Yearwood - Assistant City Manager

2016 Adult friendship delegation
Bill Howerton - Assistant City Manager
Dawn Howerton - Delegate
Wood Franklin - Director of Public Works
Missy Franklin - Delegate
Leisa Hutcheson - Director of Human Resources
Bob Hutcheson - Delegate
Bridget Faulkenberry - Director of Parks and Recreation

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