Santa Clara’s top city officials may enjoy some of the highest public employee compensation in the state. City Manager Deanna Santana, for her part, makes more than the president of the United States, with $767,605 in annual compensation since the council gave her an 11 percent raise last month.
But that didn’t stop her and a couple of her underlings from getting taxpayers to foot the bill for a somewhat too lavish excursion to Paris last fall.
Santana and assistant city managers Nadine Nader and Ruth Shikada jetted off to France for September’s International Association of Science Parks and Areas of Innovation (IASP) conference. The stated goal was in the city’s interest. With the Santa Clara Convention Center set to host the IASP gathering in 2021, Santana and her entourage hoped to get a taste of the event and promote their Silicon Valley city in return.
Unsurprisingly, that kind of diplomatic jet-setting comes with a pretty hefty price tag.
Documents obtained by Fly show that the three-day trip cost taxpayers roughly $8,500. And despite planning to attend since February 2019, Santana and her cohorts missed out on cheaper airfare by waiting until June to book their transatlantic flights.
While the conference was held in Nantes, the trio of Santa Clarans paid $120 for a 20-minute car ride to spend their first night in Paris at the Marriott Champs Elysees—a five star hotel with rooms that cost upward of $460 a night.
To her credit, Santana paid out of pocket for her posh room. The same can’t be said for her two travel buddies.
After a night at the Marriott, the group eschewed France’s famed train system and piled into a $940 private car to head more than 200 miles northeast to the conference.
Santana didn’t return requests for comment. But Lenka Wright—the city’s mouthpiece—defended the cost of the trip as “reasonable” and the purpose as a benefit to taxpayers.
Wright also claimed that the chauffeur service from Paris to Nantes was “relatively cost neutral” compared to buying three $225 plane tickets to travel the same distance and hail a ride to their hotel. “Relatively cost neutral” is open to interpretation, of course. If they spent $675 on air fare, they’d have to spend another $265 to taxi from airport to hotel to match the cost of that 200-mile chauffeur ride.
Fly can’t help but wonder how many people outside City Hall would agree with Wright’s definition of “reasonable” and “relatively cost neutral.”