Several New Jersey mayors, some from the poorest towns in the state, are headed to Hawaii this summer — some at the expense of taxpayers.
The US Conference of Mayors is hosting its annual convention in Honolulu starting June 28 and eight New Jersey mayors are pre-registered to attend, according to the conference’s website.
It is unclear how much money each municipality is spending on airfare, hotels, and meals, but conference registration for the 87th annual event costs $950 for mayors and city officials who are members of the organization, according to the website.
Mayors from Elizabeth, Kearny, Pleasantville, Fanwood, Piscataway, Rahway, Irvington Township and Plainfield are slated to attend the four-day conference, according to the site.
The City of Plainfield is sending Mayor Adrian Mapp and “a few supporting staff,” according to Jazz Clayton-Hunt, a spokesperson for the City of Plainfield.
Clayton-Hunt refused to clarify exactly how many Plainfield officials were going or answer questions about the exact cost of the trip. An Open Public Records request seeking the costs has yet to be answered.
Hotel rooms cost between $279 and $389 a night if the municipalities choose to book rooms with the Hilton Hawaiian Village, which is hosting the conference, according to the conference’s pricing sheet.
Fanwood Borough Mayor Colleen Mahr is the president of the NJ League of Municipalities and is using that organization’s money to go.
“There will be no expense to (Fanwood) borough whatsoever,” Mahr’s aide, Pat Hoynes, said in an email.
Kearny Mayor Alberto Santos is paying for his own airfare, room and board, and the Town of Kearny is paying for his $950 registration fee, he said.
The other five municipalities and a representative from the United States Conference for Mayors did not immediately respond for a request for comment on Thursday.
The conference provides valuable connections and opportunities to receive grants, Clayton-Hunt said. She added that the Plainfield mayor and some staff members have attended the conference for the past five years, which has been hosted in various cities like Indianapolis and Boston.
“Each year the conference moves from city to city,” she said. “The fact that it happens to be in Hawaii this year does not diminish its value and should not be a preclusion for the participation of the City of Plainfield.”
In the past, Plainfield officials’ interactions at the conference led to a partnership with a company that offered free video advertising for local businesses and a $50,000 grant to combat childhood obesity, according to Clayton-Hunt.
“We cannot exist in a vacuum and we cannot ignore the value that is gained from being able to network, share, and glean ideas from other parts of the nation,” she said. “This is the only conference that brings together such a large gathering of leaders in one place, and its value has been immense for the City of Plainfield.”
Plainfield is a contender for this year’s “livability award” which, if successful will bring grant money of $150,000, according to Clayton-Hunt.
Mayors attending the meeting serve on urban policy committees focused on issues like public health, housing, energy, and transportation. Each mayor votes on various policy resolutions. Their recommendations are then sent the President of the United States and Congress, according to the website.
This year, after voting on various issues and hearing remarks from companies like Airbnb, Wells Fargo, AT&T and Uber, the mayors and their staff can get “exclusive access” to explore Iolani Palace on June 30. They can also “gather under the stars on the rooftop of the beautiful Hawaii Convention Center,” on July 1, according to the conference’s schedule.
“There will be a sampling of…truly amazing…food, beverages and special entertainment,” the July 1 schedule reads. “Once grazing and networking begin to wind down for the evening, we invite everyone into the main ballroom for a concert featuring one of Hawaii’s most revered entertainers, Willie K.”
Suggested attire for the rooftop event is casual, the schedule said.