The Fiesta Bowl hasn't been the only organization handing out goodies to public officials.
The Greater Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau paid for Phoenix Councilwoman and mayoral wannabe Peggy Neely to fly to Hawaii on a six-night, seven-day junket to woo a youth soccer tournament that didn't need wooing.
New Times is reviewing Phoenix travel records for Neely, Councilman Claude Mattox and former Councilman Greg Stanton. Stanton and Mattox already have declared their candidacies for Phoenix mayor. Neely still is exploring the possibility of running in the August 30 election.
Travel logs show that the Convention and Visitors Bureau picked up the tab for Neely to fly to Hawaii from June 14 to June 20, 2008. She and a bureau member were trying to recruit a U.S. Youth Soccer regional tournament -- at the same time the city was sliding into a $67 million budget deficit.
|Peggy Neely is considering a run for mayor.|
Neely defended the trip, saying it resulted in Phoenix landing the 2012 U.S. Youth Soccer regional tournament. She says it means 4,000 hotel room nights for each day of the week-long tournament.
"That's huge," she tells New Times. "We were successful. It was just one of those things that happened to be in Hawaii that year. We believe it was the best thing to do."
Hard to imagine that Phoenix wouldn't attract soccer tournaments, given that voters spent nearly $25 million to build the Reach 11 Sports Complex. The 77-acre soccer facility, with 20 lighted soccer fields and 2,200 parking spaces, are a selling point on their own.
Moreover, Tom Mendoth, U.S. Youth Soccer Region IV Tournament coordinator, says political courting has nothing to do with a city's landing the next regional tournament.
Mendoth says it isn't common for elected officials to go to tournaments, as Neely did in 2008, to sell their cities to coaches or staff members. He recalls seeing Neely and a representative from the Convention and Visitors Bureau set up a booth on the soccer field and hand out water bottles.
"There's no political aspect to this at all," he said, adding that bids to become a tournament site are submitted by potential host cities and a presentation is made to the U.S. Youth Soccer board of directors.
Mendoth says demographics, hotel availability and safety, the quality facilities, and the proximity to medical attention play a role in his organization's deciding where the next tournament lands.
Even so, Neely jetted off on the nearly $4,000 trip just months after Phoenix officials announced that a $67 million budget shortfall was going to force them to severely slash city services, such as public pools, community centers, and senior centers.
The Convention and Visitors Bureau shelled out $1,181.15, which covered most of Neely's $1,522.55 plane ticket. The remaining $2,768.45 tab for the trip was picked up by taxpayers.
It isn't clear how much money was spent, or who shelled it out, for Neely's bureau companion to take the trip.
New Times requested records from the organization on April 1 to determine how many other times it has paid for public officials' travel or entertainment.
A Visitors Bureau spokesman said it is working on the request.
Neely, a member of the Visitors Bureau board of directors, wrote in an April 14, 2008 memo to former City Manager Frank Fairbanks that it was "important to be in attendance for the entire tournament."
She told him that she needed to attend as many games as possible to meet with coaches, officials, and staff. Mendoth, who's been involved with youth soccer for 20 years, says coaches and staffers don't make decisions about the tournament sites.
Neely enjoyed posh accommodations at the Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort on Waikiki Beach.
A resort official told New Times that Neely stayed in a Banyan Ocean suite, a room that presently is going for $2,800 a night. But Eric Berger, the resort's general manager, apparently gave Neely a special rate of $220 a night.
New Times left a message for Berger to see if he could shed light on the reason for the steep discount, but he hasn't gotten back to us.
It's worth noting that there is a Westin resort -- Westin Kierland -- in Neely's council district, and she has hosted many events there, from election victory parties to fundraisers for her anticipated bid for mayor.
Neely says she got her room rate by going through the Visitors Bureau -- not a perk we imagine is available for the average traveler.
"All I did was go to the Convention and Visitors Bureau...I didn't ask for anything other than a room," she says. "I had nothing to do with the room where I stayed."
During her stay in Honolulu, Neely enjoyed some pricey meals -- $46 King Crab legs, a single dinner with a tab of $68.42 after tax and tip. Another dinner, this one at the Cheesecake Factory, ended up at $46.63.
She also dined on a $17 turkey sandwich, a $16 breakfast wrap, and $14 waffles in the hotel.
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Time has faded the information on some of the receipts, but we did find a few calls for room service, which tacks on a $5 delivery charge and a 17 percent service charge to bills.
As Neely continues exploring a run for mayor, her committee sent out an e-mail on April 7 with this statement:
"As city leaders, we must be accountable with [public] tax dollars. We must publicly weigh the benefits of programs and initiatives to ensure that public funds are spent wisely," she writes. "I will approach this budget with the same fiscal responsibility as the ones I have faced in the past and will continue to press a transparent and accountable process."
Neely tells New Times that she did her best to keep costs to a minimum, and even came home from the trip a day early.