How often do mayors travel in east Idaho?
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IDAHO FALLS — Mayor Rebecca Casper was recently put on the spot by local super PAC, Businesses for Growth, for the amount of time she has spent outside of the city traveling on business.
The criticism was based on city documents showing Casper has traveled outside of Idaho Falls 342 days (as of Oct. 25, 2017) of her four-year term.
An EastIdahoNews.com analysis of mayoral travel documents from multiple east Idaho cities shows Casper has traveled significantly more than her mayoral counterparts. In the past four years, she has taken a total of 83 trips and been away from Idaho Falls approximately 25 percent of her time in office.
The 342 days includes weekends and time when Casper had already worked a full day in the city of Idaho Falls before leaving on a trip. Even accounting for that, when compared with other east Idaho mayors, Casper’s travel still appears abnormally high.
Mayor Brian Blad of Pocatello has traveled outside of his city roughly 44 times within four years. Mayor Paul Loomis traveled outside of Blackfoot 15 times over four years.
Rexburg Mayor Richard Woodland, who left office in 2016, traveled outside of the city roughly 29 times between 2012 and 2015. Loomis and Woodland represent much smaller communities than Idaho Falls and Pocatello.
Casper defended her travel during a mayoral forum with EastIdahoNews.com.
“Much of the travel I do is related to Idaho Falls Power and that’s something you don’t see in other communities — they don’t offer to operate a power entity,” Casper said. “That’s simply because the city of Idaho Falls needs to be represented.”
WATCH MAYOR CASPER DISCUSS HER TRAVEL
Casper later said in an interview with EastIdahoNews.com another aspect of her travel has to do with the city’s involvement with Idaho National Laboratory and the INL campus in Idaho Falls.
“Some of the travel I do is on behalf of the advocacy that we do for the laboratory, for the cleanup mission, for the naval reactor facility,” Casper said. “That is a huge part of the local economy.”
Half of Casper’s trips (42) were to Boise and she says that is to make sure Idaho Falls is represented in front of the Idaho legislature.
Every trip Loomis took away from Blackfoot was to Boise. Blad spent around half of his trips (20) in the capital city and Woodland traveled to Boise roughly 11 times during his term.
Numbers were not available for part-time Ammon mayor Dana Kirkham but officials said she occasionally travels to Boise or to meetings in regards to Ammon’s fiber optic interests.
Every year Casper attends meetings with Energy Communities Alliance (ECA), a non-profit organization for local governments impacted by the U.S. Department of Energy. At least once a year, she attends meetings in Washington DC where her daughter lives and works for ECA.
Casper is also an ECA board member.
Businesses for Growth has criticized Casper’s travel because of her role with ECA and the fact that one of her daughters works for the organization. Casper insists there is nothing nefarious there.
“I didn’t get her the job,” Casper said. “She actually tagged along with me once when she was a student in DC working on a paper for one of her classes — something about nuclear energy.”
City leaders put together a meeting in DC involving lobbying for INL and Casper said her daughter asked if she could go along. Casper said she asked the others who were on the trip if it was alright and they agreed to let her daughter join them.
During the trip, Casper’s daughter met a staff member of ECA and used that person and the ECA as a resource for her college paper.
“Several months later, when they had a staff opening, they reached out to her and she interviewed and got a job with them,” Casper said. “I didn’t even know about it until after she was hired.”
Regarding Casper’s position on the ECA Board of Directors, she is the third Idaho Falls mayor to serve in such a capacity. Previous mayors who have served on the board include Jared Fuhriman and Linda Milam. Milam was a founding member of the ECA.
Frank VanderSloot, one of the mayor’s biggest critics, issued a statement responding to the mayor’s travel:
“To be fair, I’ve never been a mayor of a city, but to me the amount of travel seems exorbitant. I run a $2 billion dollar business with offices in 16 countries. I also serve on boards in Washington DC. Yet I do not travel nearly as much as Mayor Casper. Sitting in airports and on airplanes for hours just to attend a two hour meeting or conference is such a waste. With today’s technology, we find it is much less necessary to travel. Using today’s technology, we can have ‘face-to-face’ meetings without ever getting on an airplane. In today’s world, efficient and effective leaders avoid travel as much as possible. That said, it would be unfair to judge Mayor Casper based on her travel alone. One should look at whether Idaho Falls is going forward or backwards. That is my biggest concern. The fact that so many businesses are leaving town and moving to Ammon or to the county is an indication of something much larger than just the mayor’s excessive travel record.”