CLEVELAND (WJW) – The FOX 8 I-Team has found how much taxpayer money is going toward trips around the country for Cleveland’s mayor and top managers, and we found the mayor taking Cleveland police officers with him.
The I-Team checked where Mayor Justin Bibb is going and why. We also looked at who is going along.
City records show, so far in 2022, Bibb has flown to five conferences for mayors. He went to Miami, Austin, Reno and twice to D.C.
We also found he didn’t travel alone. On four trips, he took his chief government affairs officer, and on one trip, his chief strategy officer.
Also on four trips, he took two police officers from his executive protection detail ”for security and escort services.”
When the mayor went to Reno, he took three officers. Those officers even went to Reno the day before the conference started there.
The I-Team added the bills we reviewed. Since January, the cost to taxpayers has totaled more than $25,000. In addition to that, add thousands of more dollars for the police officers included in the security detail.
All of this comes as taxpayers are struggling to pay their bills. They often wonder why they don’t see police on their block.
We shared our findings with Catherine Turcer, executive director of the government watchdog group called Common Cause.
She says a mayor travelling can be a good thing, but asking how many people are going with him and why are fair questions.
“We should look at how money is being spent,” Turcer said.
Some of the records the I-Team received from city official show the mayor’s security detail has even rented vehicles for weekend conferences. Sometimes the security team has spent more than $1,000 on car rental for a weekend.
“We want to make sure that the city’s money is appropriately spent,” Turcer said. “That does mean, you know, economizing here and there.”
The I-Team has asked more than 12 times to talk to Mayor Bibb about his travel and the people he takes with him. He has not met with us or tried to arrange an interview.
However, three hours before this story was to air on FOX 8, the mayor’s office released the following statement.
“For any mayoral travel, the Department of Public Safety and the security team evaluate the location, itinerary, and any public engagements to assess risk and create a comprehensive security plan for the trip. Potential threats to public officials’ safety are always evolving and our skilled team works to prevent incidents before they occur, which sometimes requires advance work. This is not unique to the City of Cleveland. Our policies are very much in line with those of other big city mayor’s offices. Public figures across the U.S. are facing escalating harassment and threats of violence at a time of deep political divisions and intensified public debate, as recently reported in the Wall Street Journal. This is an unfortunate national trend.
“Despite this, Mayor Bibb has successfully brought Cleveland back into the national conversation; ensuring our city has a seat at the table where decisions are made. This work is already bearing fruit for Cleveland and is crucial to boosting the city’s reputation and subsequently expanding its economy. For the first time in decades, Cleveland has an active leadership role in the U.S. Conference of Mayors—participating in national urban policy discussions on economic development, immigration, climate change and infrastructure. The exposure also earned us selection by the Putting Assets to Work Incubator headed by the Government Finance Officers Association, the Honeywell Smart Cities Accelerator program and the U.S. Mayors’ Institute on City Design, just to name a few.
“Big city mayors are leading the way on all the big issues facing our nation today—from public safety to abortion to pandemic recovery efforts—and this requires collaboration and getting outside of City Hall to build strategic relationships and bring much-needed resources back to the residents that we serve. The Bibb administration unequivocally believes that the investment we make in this work is an investment in the future of Cleveland.“
Cleveland city officials say their policies are, “very much in line with those of other big city mayor’s offices,” but the I-Team checked with officials with Columbus and Akron. Spokespeople there tell us the mayors in those two cities do go to conferences, but they do not take police officers with them on the trips.
A spokeswoman for Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther says he, “does not travel with security detail or cabinet members.” Mayor Ginther, however, often travels with his governmental affairs staff person.
The U.S. Conference of Mayors says the policy on taking private security to conference varies from city to city. The group, however, says it works with local police to assure that there is adequate security at the organization’s meetings.
Local activist Larry Bresler says he doesn’t question city leaders going, just security.
“Unless there were documented threats on his life, for him to be taking three security people to cities where nobody’s going to recognize him, really makes very little sense,” Bresler said.
We will continue to try and get the mayor to answer questions about the use of taxpayer money for travel for himself, security officers and his top advisors.