Texas Black Caucus defends junket to South Africa

From big-spending liberals in Washington to their counterparts in the Democratic bastions of urban America – all share a singular talent for spending other people's money. Consider the case of Sheryl Cole, the first African-American elected to the City Council in Austin, Texas. Recently, Cole has been in the public spotlight because of her 10-day trip to South Africa (unwittingly paid for by Austin taxpayers) as part of a junket organized by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Local news outlets, led by feisty government watchdog Internet site "The Austin Bulldog," have recently been calling attention to Cole's trip two years ago. She stayed at luxury hotels and enjoyed complimentary beverages and extra legroom on an upgraded airline flight.

Taxpayers, of course, are generally concerned with mundane things such as good schools, well-maintained roads, and other public services: police and fire departments, trash collection, etc. But in justifying her trip to South Africa, Cole told the Austin-American Statesman that  "Austin is a global city" and that well, South Africa is dealing with climate change in unique ways that Austin could learn from in it's effort to contend with global warming.

Citing The Bulldog, the Statesman's article on Tuesday noted that "Cole spent $10,508 on travel in 2011, more than each of the six other council members.” As for her trip to South Africa, the paper said it was organized by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. Cole's flight cost just over $2,400, her hotel rooms $2,827. “I did not set the itinerary,” Cole pointed out.

Interestingly, Cole isn't even a member of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. But the Black Caucus member who arranged the trip, Rep. Helen Giddings, said Cole was invited to come along because of the valuable perspective she would provide when meeting with officials in South Africa, according to the Statesman.

“All of the work I do in South Africa has four goals,” Giddings, a Democrat, explained. “First is to develop trade between South Africa and Texas. The second is to promote cultural and educational exchanges. Third is people-to-people dialogue, and fourth is to get involved in some kind of good-will humanitarian-type initiative that enhances the reputation of Texas.”

So how have taxpayers benefited from Gidding's 2011 trip and other trips there? She told the Statesman that the country's ambassador visited Texas to meet with Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples. “I cannot say that anything has happened just yet,” she admitted.

According to the Statesman, “Giddings said caucus members’ expenses were paid for partially by state taxpayers and partially by donations to the nonprofit organization. She said she did not remember the delegation’s accommodations “as luxurious, but I do remember them as nice.” She said the group selected the top hotels as appropriate to the high-level meetings it was holding.”

Cole, for her part, told the Statesman that she used public funds that she'd been allotted for personal and travel expenses. “It’s not as though taxpayers had to pay more because I went to Africa,” she said.

Interestingly, Cole's use of taxpayer money to visit South Africa was (as the Statesman noted) detailed more than a year and a half ago by The Bulldog; but then the local Fox station, on Monday, belatedly reported some of the embarrassing details of the trip by repeating information first reported by The Bulldog, and on Tuesday the Statesman freshened up the story with its own piece.

Cole, a lawyer and account, has been on the City Council since 2006. She has served as acting mayor and is seen as a likely candidate to run for Austin's mayor next year. Years ago, as The Bulldog reported, Cole let her professional licenses lapse. Why make a comfortable living as a lawyer and accountant when -- as a well-connected member of Austin's liberal political class -- she can do so much better by feeding  at the public trough?

 

From big-spending liberals in Washington to their counterparts in the Democratic bastions of urban America – all share a singular talent for spending other people's money. Consider the case of Sheryl Cole, the first African-American elected to the City Council in Austin, Texas. Recently, Cole has been in the public spotlight because of her 10-day trip to South Africa (unwittingly paid for by Austin taxpayers) as part of a junket organized by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus.

Local news outlets, led by feisty government watchdog Internet site "The Austin Bulldog," have recently been calling attention to Cole's trip two years ago. She stayed at luxury hotels and enjoyed complimentary beverages and extra legroom on an upgraded airline flight.

Taxpayers, of course, are generally concerned with mundane things such as good schools, well-maintained roads, and other public services: police and fire departments, trash collection, etc. But in justifying her trip to South Africa, Cole told the Austin-American Statesman that  "Austin is a global city" and that well, South Africa is dealing with climate change in unique ways that Austin could learn from in it's effort to contend with global warming.

Citing The Bulldog, the Statesman's article on Tuesday noted that "Cole spent $10,508 on travel in 2011, more than each of the six other council members.” As for her trip to South Africa, the paper said it was organized by the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. Cole's flight cost just over $2,400, her hotel rooms $2,827. “I did not set the itinerary,” Cole pointed out.

Interestingly, Cole isn't even a member of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus. But the Black Caucus member who arranged the trip, Rep. Helen Giddings, said Cole was invited to come along because of the valuable perspective she would provide when meeting with officials in South Africa, according to the Statesman.

“All of the work I do in South Africa has four goals,” Giddings, a Democrat, explained. “First is to develop trade between South Africa and Texas. The second is to promote cultural and educational exchanges. Third is people-to-people dialogue, and fourth is to get involved in some kind of good-will humanitarian-type initiative that enhances the reputation of Texas.”

So how have taxpayers benefited from Gidding's 2011 trip and other trips there? She told the Statesman that the country's ambassador visited Texas to meet with Texas Agricultural Commissioner Todd Staples. “I cannot say that anything has happened just yet,” she admitted.

According to the Statesman, “Giddings said caucus members’ expenses were paid for partially by state taxpayers and partially by donations to the nonprofit organization. She said she did not remember the delegation’s accommodations “as luxurious, but I do remember them as nice.” She said the group selected the top hotels as appropriate to the high-level meetings it was holding.”

Cole, for her part, told the Statesman that she used public funds that she'd been allotted for personal and travel expenses. “It’s not as though taxpayers had to pay more because I went to Africa,” she said.

Interestingly, Cole's use of taxpayer money to visit South Africa was (as the Statesman noted) detailed more than a year and a half ago by The Bulldog; but then the local Fox station, on Monday, belatedly reported some of the embarrassing details of the trip by repeating information first reported by The Bulldog, and on Tuesday the Statesman freshened up the story with its own piece.

Cole, a lawyer and account, has been on the City Council since 2006. She has served as acting mayor and is seen as a likely candidate to run for Austin's mayor next year. Years ago, as The Bulldog reported, Cole let her professional licenses lapse. Why make a comfortable living as a lawyer and accountant when -- as a well-connected member of Austin's liberal political class -- she can do so much better by feeding  at the public trough?

 

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