Mayors descend on Vegas for $1.8M event
Mufi Hannemann attended the conference but returned yesterday
LAS VEGAS » It's a convention weekend, do you know where your mayor is?
If you live in a major American city, the answer is probably Las Vegas, this year's host of the U.S. Conference of Mayors annual meeting.
More than 200 mayors have converged on the city for a weekend of policy discussion and corporate-funded partying.
The City of Las Vegas, led by mob lawyer-turned-mayor Oscar Goodman, will spend $1.8 million just entertaining the public officials for four days, $1.3 million of which comes from corporate donations.
Aside from discussions on pandemic flu and homeland security, the agenda included a morning round of golf, a private tour of a dolphin habitat, poker lessons from a professional and a tour of the Bellagio art museum -- all complimentary and all before dinner yesterday.
The mayors also got a free, private performance of Cirque du Soleil's latest, a Beatles-themed show called "Love" and a pool-side luau at the city's hottest new casino, Red Rock Station. Last night was "Oscar's Night" a blowout ball with performances from top Las Vegas talent. All bars were open -- sushi and otherwise.
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann attended the conference, but planned to return to the islands yesterday.
"I want everyone going home and saying Las Vegas is the greatest place in the world and saying Oscar Goodman is the coolest mayor who ever lived," Goodman said.
Sure, it's cool. But is it ethical?
Although corporate-funded conventions for public officials are nothing new, they can be problematic, said ethics expert Bob Stern of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies in Los Angeles.
"If I wanted a private showing of Cirque du Soleil and said, 'I'm having a family reunion,' I don't think they'd say, 'Sure!'" Stern said. "The problem is these (sponsors) want something from Las Vegas and they want something from the other public officials if they're going to expand to other parts of the country. It's a trend that should stop."
Stern said the freebies should be considered gifts. Some mayors, depending on their city's ethics rules, may have to report them.
U.S. Conference of Mayors President Beverly O'Neill, mayor of Long Beach, Calif., said she's comfortable with the corporate presence at the meeting, which started Friday and ends Tuesday. While the group covers the cost of the meeting itself, she said she left the details of after-hours activities to Goodman and Vegas.
The city contracted the job of raising entertainment funds out to a prominent local public relations firm, R&R Live, which was paid $100,000 for its work soliciting at least $380,000 from casinos, $137,500 from Sprint-Nextel, $88,000 from the construction industry and $3,000 from Chippendales, among others.
Las Vegas taxpayers will pay about $500,000 for entertaining, city officials said.