KGNS On Your Side: A deep dive into the City of Laredo’s trip to D.C.

Published: Apr. 4, 2023 at 10:38 AM CDT
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LAREDO, TX. (KGNS) - For decades now, the City of Laredo has dedicated a week to visit Washington D.C. in order to lobby for projects and programs that’ll benefit the Laredo community.

In March 2023, nearly 30 city officials including city council members, directors and staff met with roughly 20 federal departments promoting projects like the World Trade Bridge expansion and Binational River Park.

With a price tag of over $100,000, the ‘KGNS On Your Side’ team took a deep dive into the trip’s expenses and what comes out of the visit.

In an open records request, KGNS asked the City of Laredo for a complete itinerary list including official and unofficial visits and the expenses of everyone participating.

It was a jam-packed legislative agenda including meetings with the Environmental Protection Agency to discuss concerns with ethylene oxide emissions, and the State Department to inquire about the process to expand the World Trade Bridge.

A total of $102,163.92 was spent on the airfare, lodging, food and travel expenses of 27 officials including District 6 Councilmember Dr. Tyler King, who visited the nation’s capital for the first time as a member of the city delegation.

“The good thing about these trips is that we’ll be able to bring our Laredo voice to Washington D.C.,” Dr. King said. “The most important thing is that we follow up on some of these great meetings. It’s one thing to get photo-ops and feel important in the nation’s capital, but if we’re not getting those email addresses and actually following up then it’s all for nothing. I think we did a good job of collecting grant opportunities and getting those follow-up emails already set up.”

According to information provided in the open records request, King’s expenses totaled $2,586.11, which was an amount seen by almost all of the attendees.

King broke down his expenses to the ‘On Your Side’ team, explaining that his flight was nearly $900, hotel roughly $300 a night, and cost of food and transportation was between $30 - $70 per day.

“I wish I was wealthy enough to pay that on my own,” King said. “I know that there are other council members who have paid their own way, and shifted this money to other parts of the city, but unfortunately I currently make a teacher’s salary as a resident doctor, and so I was not able to pay for that out of my own pocket.”

Aside from travel expenses for people, the city set aside over $32,000 to fly in food from Palenque Bar & Grill for “Laredo Day.”

The cost of food for “Laredo Day” was something Councilmember King said he wasn’t privy to.

“That was a beautiful scene,” King said. “Now, is it worth all the money? I bet a lot of voters would probably think otherwise, so that’s something to look at. I know it’s a tradition, it was an incredible experience for me to participate in, but is it absolutely necessary? That’s a good question. I actually did not know the city ended up paying for that.”

The money used to pay for these expenses are pulled from various unrestricted funds available in the city budget, according to Laredo City Manager Joe Neeb.

“It is a lot of money,” said Neeb. “But, I would say in the scope of it, the return of $30 million on a hundred-thousand investment is actually a pretty good investment.”

This trip was Neeb’s first time in Washington D.C. with the delegation and as a member of a city managerial staff.

Neeb said his former city of Roswell, New Mexico would do similar legislative trips, but on a much smaller scale since they are a small town.

Now seeing how the City of Laredo handles a trip of this magnitude, KGNS asked Neeb if there was anything he would change.

“If we can divide an conquer a little bit differently, " Neeb said. “So we can get our points across more active because a lot of us were in the same rooms together, and I would spread us out a little bit more so that we are more effective with reaching more individuals, in order to express how important Laredo is.”

Neeb said the city has received approval on one of the grants the city asked for that fall under the Engineering Department.

Councilmember King mentioned the city was able to get a lot of important information and meet with lawmakers that can help the city secure a presidential permit for the expansion of World Trade Bridge.

Out of the nearly 30 officials that attended the trip, one person did pay their own way and that was District 8 Councilmember Alyssa Cigarroa.

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