Beverly Hills Mayor Benjamin H. Stansbury received an early Christmas present this week, and now he can thank Santa Claus in person.
With Stansbury providing the swing vote, the City Council voted 3-2 at Tuesday's study session to pay Stansbury's $966 round-trip air fare to accompany officials of the Beverly Hills Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau and 22 children on a promotional trip to Finland that includes a visit to Santa Claus Land in Lapland.
Council members Donna Ellman and Maxwell Salter voted with Stansbury, while council members Robert K. Tanenbaum and Charlotte Spadaro voted no.
Last year, the City Council was split 2-2--with Stansbury abstaining--on the vote to pay for the trip. The delegation left without an elected official representing the city.
Last month, with Ellman absent because of a death in the family, Salter brought up the issue again, stressing that the trip was an official visit extended by the Finnish government. However, neither Tanenbaum nor Spadaro could be dissuaded.
On Tuesday, Ellman requested that another vote be taken, and this time Stansbury broke the tie that will enable him to join the delegation on the trip to Finland and Sweden, which leaves today.
"There's nothing personal about it," Stansbury said in explaining his vote. "It is the duty and responsibility of the mayor, and the duty and responsibility of the city to pay for it."
"I think it is not only appropriate but necessary," Ellman said. "And the city should pay for it."
"This is a business trip," Salter said. "This is for the purpose of expanding the city's business."
While not disputing the value of the trip, both Tanenbaum and Spadaro said that public funds should not be used to pay for the trip.
"The public has a feeling about government that government should be frugal," Spadaro said. "Foreign trips are not viewed in the same light as, say, buying a fire truck."
Tanenbaum unsuccessfully argued that the city should follow the example set by Spadaro last year when she paid her own air fare to Cannes, France, on a sister-city promotional trip.
The weeklong trip to Finland and Sweden is part of the chamber's promotional Holiday Pageant, which was held last Friday to kick off a campaign to attract holiday shoppers to Beverly Hills.
The Finnish Consulate General is a sponsor of the pageant, and the nation's airline, Finnair, is providing free transportation to Finland for the chamber delegation and the children.
The offer was also made to the mayor, but state law prohibits elected officials from accepting free rides on any form of commercial transportation.
The chamber delegation and the children--from Camp Ronald McDonald for Good Times, a camp for children with cancer--will visit Santa Claus Land near the Arctic Circle, attend a reception given by the U.S. ambassador to Finland, Rockwell Schnabel, and make stops in Helsinki and Stockholm.