Aurora City Council member Molly Markert, right, last month helped Brothers Redevelopment launch the Paint-A-Thon’s 32nd season along with counter- parts across the Front Range, including Northglenn Council member Kim Snetzinger, left, and Brothers Redevelopment board member Don Schierling. (Special to The Denver Post)
Aurora City Councilwoman Molly Markert is flying to Ethiopia next week for two weeks to deliver donated eyeglasses to Aurora’s sister city at Aurora’s expense and effectively ending her council tenure in Africa.
Markert is using $1,200 from her council travel fund to fly to Adama, Ethiopia, to help pay for airline tickets. Adama is paying for lodging for Markert, who is going with a friend who is paying her own way, Markert said.
This year, Aurora City Council members have an annual travel budget of $5,000. Any unused money can go back into the city’s general fund, if someone is term-limited, or rolled into their accounts for the following year if they’re still on the council.
Markert said she is taking 2,865 donated eyeglasses in large suitcases to Ethiopia and she opted for the personal trip. “I can’t see $1,200 making a particular difference in the city budget,” she said. “But what we gain is international goodwill.”
Markert told The Denver Post she sees no issue in taking the glasses there herself instead of shipping them. She said she worked hard to collect the glasses and wants to make sure they arrive at their destination.
“That’s what you consider a humanitarian or goodwill mission,” Markert said. “You just don’t ship something and hope it gets there and call it good.”
She said she also plans to meet with Adama’s new mayor and will be involved in discussions about future development on a 1-acre parcel of land Adama gave to Aurora in the Ethiopian city.
Markert is term-limited and her last official day on the council is Dec. 7, when new council members will be sworn in. Until then, the City Council has scheduled an executive session for this coming Monday to discuss personnel issues. It also has a regularly scheduled council meeting Nov. 23 and a potential executive session before that meeting.
It’s the second time this year Markert will be in Ethiopia. A contingent of Aurora city officials, which included Markert, and residents flew to Adama in February for nine days. The city paid for the staff and council transportation, while officials in Ethiopia paid for lodging and food.
City Attorney Mike Hyman said as long as the money is used for “some sort of purpose” such as training, conferences or city business, Aurora honors the council members’ wishes. That seems to apply in this case.
Even so, the fact that there were other options than delivering the glasses in person raises questions, according to Luis Toro, executive director of Colorado Ethics Watch.
“It’s dubious at best,” Toro said. “You can spend official money on official business, but this seems more like a personal trip.”
Aurora Mayor Steve Hogan said council members decide what to spend their travel budgets on and that Markert has been active with the Ethiopian community here.
“Delivering used eyeglasses to those who need them is a statement of her passion and devotion,” Hogan said in an e-mail. “I am comfortable there are Ethiopians who will be seeing clearly for the first time in their lives, in just a couple of weeks.”
Carlos Illescas: 303-954-1175, firstname.lastname@example.org or @cillescasdp
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