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Council member Alondra Cano's fab European trips on taxpayers' dime

Legitimate city business or thinly-veiled vacations to Paris (and Barcelona) on the city's dime?

Legitimate city business or thinly-veiled vacations to Paris (and Barcelona) on the city's dime?

For newbie Minneapolis City Council Member Alondra Cano, representing Ninth Ward neighborhoods like Powderhorn, East Phillips, and Corcoran necessitates semiannual international travel.

In March, city taxpayers paid almost $3,000 for Cano to go to the Public Spaces International Public Markets Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The cash came from public monies appropriated under Cano's Ninth Ward budget, which can be spent at the politician's discretion.

Cano attended the information-gathering session because "it's time for the city of Minneapolis to view public markets as a serious economic development strategy," she said prior to departure. 

Eight months since returning from Barcelona, the trip has yet to bear legislative fruit. According to statistics from the Office of the City Clerk, Cano hasn't proposed a single piece of legislation addressing public markets — or any other issue — in the City of Lakes in 2015. 

Cano's most recent junket took place in late November with the city on the cuff to pick up most of the tab for her trip to France for the 21st Annual United Nations Summit on Climate Change. While the total costs have yet to be tabulated, it's anticipated to be all of the curb-to-curb expenses minus an airfare voucher she personally used to cover a portion of the roundtrip flight.  

Officials heading overseas on city business is hardly something new. Mayor Betsy Hodges and Council Member John Quincy joined Meet Minneapolis staff in January for a visit to sister city Harbin, China. The group's purpose was to share information about economic development and tourism in cold zone cities.  

Her smile says Paris is lovely in winter.

Her smile says Paris is lovely in winter.

Cano's Paris attendance, however, doesn't appear to pass the same litmus test. The U.N.-sponsored climate talks were a meeting of nations, not municipalities. The conference objective was to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement among countries. How a Minneapolis contingent of one benefitted the conference — or city residents — raises questions.

Cano stands behind her decisions for global travel on city cash. The reason she didn't introduce any legislation on public markets, Cano explains, was because her efforts were tied to the professional soccer stadium project.

When that deal absconded to St. Paul, she says, "The wind was taken out of our sails, and we needed to find a new vehicle to move down the path" of creating public markets.

The issue remains dormant, according to Cano, because other council members have shown little interest. Without their support, there's no point revisiting the topic in open council discussion because it'll only fall on deaf ears, she maintains. 

Traveling to France was city business of another sort. The trip was more about overall education than practical policy implications, says Cano, who calls it "an important opportunity to gain more depth and more experience on the issue. ... to meet with other policy makers, researchers, and students as how they're looking at climate change." 

Her itinerary included meeting with union leaders, some foreign, but most based domestically. 

 

As Minneapolis' first Latino council member in history, Cano's arrival was hailed as an opportunity for a more inclusive dialogue where immigrants and those traditionally underrepresented might gain a greater seat at the table.

When the formation of the Violent Crime Investigations Team was announced in mid-November to combat growing violence in the city,

Cano posted, "I look forward to partnering with the city and community to make our neighborhoods safer."

In the wake of the Jamar Clark shooting, she took to the soapbox, joining the march on the Fourth Precinct and writing, "Please know my family and I are here with you in this struggle. ... "

Then within days she was off to Europe. She challenges her fellow council members to extricate themselves from what she perceives as "this small town thinking."  

Asks Cano: "Why aren't other council members engaging on global issues like this?"