At the rate he's going, Metro Council President Tom Hughes will need to add new pages to his passport faster than you can say "Oregon-Japan Friendship Week."
Since taking office in January 2011, Hughes has traveled to five countries, including two trips to Japan, at taxpayer expense—$20,738 in all.
That's a lot of travel for the top elected official of the regional government—and more than other politicians.
Portland Mayor Sam Adams has often been criticized for his frequent travels. Yet Adams' calendar shows the mayor has traveled 43 days for business since January 2011.
For Hughes, it's 50 days. That's also more than Gov. John Kitzhaber (35) and Multnomah County Chairman Jeff Cogen (four.)
Hughes says the travel is part of the economic development mission of Metro, which includes Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. Hughes says he's been trying to drum up jobs and improve business ties-—something he campaigned on in 2010.
"The reality is, there is no elected official who can speak for the entire region other than the president of Metro," he says.
Metro isn't primarily an economic development agency, according to its charter. It's more of a regulatory and planning agency, setting the region's urban growth boundary while also overseeing garbage disposal and recycling, the Oregon Zoo and the Oregon Convention Center.
In 2011, Hughes went on a trip to Germany, organized by the Portland Business Alliance, aimed at recruiting and retaining businesses and to study energy production from waste materials. That same year, he joined Gov. Kitzhaber's trade mission to South Korea and China.
And his two trips to Japan were with Business Oregon, the state's economic development agency, to meet with corporate officials at Panasonic Eco Solutions, Mitsubishi, Asahi Glass and Sanyo. Metro records say this year's trip was in honor of Oregon-Japan Friendship Week.
Hughes says his travel helps the region's smaller cities, such as Oregon City and Milwaukie, that "don't have the kind of economic development component in their government that you would find in Portland, Beaverton, Hillsboro or Gresham, for example." (Records show that companies Hughes visited overseas include Daimler and Adidas, which have U.S. headquarters in Portland; and SolarWorld, whose U.S. headquarters is in Hillsboro.)
"The travel I've done, quite frankly, has been pretty hard work," Hughes says. "Flying isn't all that fun. There are a lot of parts of travel that aren't that fun."
Some of the trips, he adds, have involved spending long days at trade shows. "Anybody who says 'trade show' and 'fun' in the same sentence hasn't been to a trade show," Hughes says.
The Metro Council president also says such travel isn't new for him. In his previous public office, as mayor of Hillsboro, he went to Japan six times to strengthen relationships with companies there.
Metro officials say Hughes offered to reimburse the agency for any costs above the per diem rates set for federal employees. In reviewing Hughes' travel records, WW noted the Metro president hadn't fully reimbursed the public for $335.77 in excess expenses.
Agency officials say
that was an oversight, and Hughes says he was unaware of it. He has
since written a check to cover the balance.