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Bell's China trip cost public $6,618

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    Toledo Mayor Mike Bell and Deputy Mayor Dean Monske flew to China on an 11-day economic development trip.

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Mayor Mike Bell's trip to China took some by surprise, but the travel expenses haven't shocked those same people back home.

In all, the cost for Toledo taxpayers for the mayor and Deputy Mayor Dean Monske to spend 11 days traveling to six Chinese cities was $6,618.

Councilman George Sarantou, a Republican and chairman of council's finance committee, said the price tag was worth it.

"I think that is a very reasonable investment in economic development for the city of Toledo," Mr. Sarantou said. "It is very important we take the initiative to reach out globally to make sure we are not missing out, and if you are going to succeed in getting foreign investments, you have to reach out to them."

The cost to the city for Mr. Bell and Mr. Monske to fly between Detroit and Hong Kong was $2,222. The two went to China with a delegation that included four Toledo-area businessmen who invited them to join the trade mission. The group landed in Hong Kong and visited Shenzhen, Shanghai, Ordos, Yulin, and Beijing before flying back.

Flights within China cost $2,552. Taxpayers also paid $1,044 for the mayor and Mr. Monske to attend the 2010 Sustainability Conference, hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, plus $800 to have 1,000 business cards printed.

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Mayor Mike Bell's double-sided business cards are printed in English on one side and Chinese on the other side

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The business cards were printed double-sided - one in English and the other side in Chinese.

The delegation to China met with as many as 120 chief executive officers to familiarize them with Toledo's investment assets and encourage visits to the region, according to a spokesman for the mayor. The delegation's itinerary also included visits to the Great Wall and Tiananmen Square, where a pro-democracy rally was suppressed in 1989.

Mr. Monske Wednesday said there would be no other expenses paid out to himself or the mayor.

"Anything there was, we paid for ourselves, other than anything that was hosted," he said.

The costs for hotels and a translator were paid for by the businesses of the other delegation members, he said.

Also in the group was Scott Prephan, owner of Prephan Enterprises; Michael Farrar, owner of ACT Ltd. and ACT Asian Operations; Sheri Bokros, business development marketing manager for Mannik & Smith Group Inc., and Alex Johnson, chief executive officer of Ohio Holdings subsidiary Midwest Terminals.

"It was a very cost-effective trip," Mr. Monske said. "I am a taxpayer and I am pleased."

Council President Wilma Brown, a Democrat, also said the trip was a good deal for the city.

"All of that was still under $10,000 and we paid $10,000 for a shower," Ms. Brown said, referring to an installation former Mayor Carty Finkbeiner authorized in 2006 for his 22nd-floor office.

"I think they did good paying for part of it themselves," Ms. Brown said. "And I think it was a good investment because when I was on the Toledo Board of Education, if I had not traveled around to conferences, even though the board did not pay for it, I would not have been able to learn more."

Most members of City Council were not aware in advance that the mayor was going to China. In fact, all the council members except Ms. Brown said they found out about the trip after Mr. Bell had boarded a plane on Sept. 10.

Joe McNamara, vice chairman of council's economic development committee, asked the mayor during an agenda review meeting Tuesday to consider better communications and raised the issue of him traveling abroad on city business without notifying council. Mayor Bell did not respond.

Editor's Note: This version corrects the cost of round-trip airfare between Detroit and Hong Kong by $1,000.

Contact Ignazio Messina at:

imessina@theblade.com

or 419-724-6171.

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