Mayor’s trip to Europe warrants scrutiny
October 1, 2011
The Aspen mayor’s compensation is set by ordinance at $2,325 per month, or $27,900 per year. Unless Mayor Ireland’s recent trip to Europe, for which he has requested $2,418 in expense reimbursement was:
1. shorter than one week in length, or
2. more than 75 percent dedicated to official business purposes of the city of Aspen, or
3. documentable to the satisfaction of the IRS that a personal vacation was not a primary consideration in the decision to travel …
Then according to Title 26 of the Internal Revenue Code, such payment constitutes taxable income to the mayor. It does not qualify as nontaxable reimbursement for business related travel.
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If the mayor’s expense reimbursement request fails the test set forth above, and to date I have seen, nor heard described any evidence that meets the test, and is granted by the city anyway, it increases the mayor’s 2011 taxable income from the legally authorized amount of $27,900 to $30,318. This fact arguably places the mayor and City Council, and anyone who signs the check, in violation of local law for permitting compensation of an elected official in excess of the amount permitted by law.
Not to mention, that $2,418 in income better show up on the mayor’s W-2 come tax time.
Given that Aspen’s Sister Cities nonprofit now publicly confirms helping to arrange the mayor’s trip, documentation necessary to determine if this travel meets IRS guidelines for reimbursement should be readily available and should be disclosed by the city and Sister Cities in the interest of public trust. Given the manner in which this issue was communicated to the community, citizens deserve complete transparency on this matter.
Citizens also deserve to know what gifts, if any, the mayor mailed back to the U.S, as documented in his expense reimbursement request and how those gifts benefit the city or the Sister Cities nonprofit.
Three final points:
First, it is not illegal for the city to pay an elected official for a trip to Europe that does not meet IRS requirements for business travel, but such payment constitutes taxable income, not a reimbursement of expenses, and because of how salaries are set for elected officals, the mayor cannot legally accept such compensation.
Second, holding elected officials accountable for how they spend public money, particularly at the intersection of personal benefit and public purpose – which is where this issue resides – is paramount to ensuring trust in our governmental system.
Finally, demanding transparency where government interacts with our local nonprofits demonstrates support for, not disparagement of, the mission of organizations such as Sister Cities.
Paul W. Menter