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Friday, April 29, 2011

Donor to fund US quake trip

Donor to fund US quake trip

Last updated 05:00 30/04/2011
A mystery donor looks likely to save Christchurch ratepayers thousands of dollars by paying for several city councillors to go on an international earthquake fact-finding mission next month.

It emerged yesterday that up to half of Christchurch's 14 city councillors – instead of the original three – may visit San Francisco.

The Press understands an announcement will be made early next week confirming the extended trip, the expanded group and who is contributing towards its cost.

The donation means councillors will not need to dip into their annual $4000 training allowance used for professional development.

Three councillors, Aaron Keown, Tim Carter and Jamie Gough, were originally planning to leave tomorrow for a whirlwind four-day trip to see how the American city recovered from its devastating 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake.

It is now understood that up to four other councillors are expected to leave Christchurch with the trio on Monday, May 16, after a two-day weekend expo the council will run to get public views on rebuilding the central city.

Deputy Mayor Ngaire Button is believed to be confirmed but said she saw "value" in the trip.

Keown said the change of date meant councillors could "pack more into our itinerary".

The delegation will meet with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, other city officials and experts who were involved in rebuilding parts of the city after the magnitude-6.9 quake.

Keown hoped councillors would pay their own accommodation and food to avoid being accused of "taking a junket" on the ratepayer.

A former city councillor, Gail Sheriff, was slammed last year for taking a ratepayer-funded trip to San Diego to attend a sandcastle-building competition so she could research a similar event for Christchurch. The public fallout prompted her to stand down at last year's elections.

But Keown described any criticism levelled at the upcoming trip as "bizarre".

Councillors would be heavily involved in making key decisions facing post-earthquake Christchurch, he said. "So it will be useful to have those discussions over there so we can make good decisions."

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