Mayor Carlo DeMaria this week defended his and other City leaders’ trip to Orsogna, Italy last summer as part of the Sister Cities program after an investigative report aired on a Boston television station Sunday, while some City councillors renewed their call for answers they’ve demanded since last summer regarding the trip.
In an op-ed to the Independent, DeMaria said the 10-day trip to Italy was the first for his administration to Everett’s Sister City of Orsogna, and it also included professional meetings in Rome and L’Aquila. He said Orsogna has sent delegations to Everett and Greater Boston on many occasions in the past, and Everett had never gone there.
He said the trip focused primarily on education, public safety and business/trade.
In the op-ed, he announced an agreement for a student exchange program starting next year that came out of the trip.
“The Orsogna trip was focused on an exchange of ideas and experience around education, public safety, and infrastructure through both conferences and discussion, and I am happy to share some highlights,” he wrote. “I am pleased to announce that during the trip, Everett and Orsogna signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to establish a student exchange program, set to begin next year. This program will offer an excellent educational experience for the Everett students who will participate in this cultural and language immersion opportunity, and for us as a community. We will be enriched by having Italian exchange students become members of our community, and we hope that they will form lifelong connections here that will last even when they return to Italy.”
Those are things that some Everett City Councillors have been trying to decipher since last summer when the trip first became public knowledge, even as recently as early this month at the Council. City Councillors John Leo McKinnon, Michael Marchese, Peter Napolitano, Fred Capone and Sal Sachetta had filed a motion for Mayor DeMaria to come before them to explain the trip and any public expenditures.
“We have invited him to come down and he has yet to come meet with us about this,” said McKinnon. “It’s been six times that it’s been held over. We’re just trying to find out what happened over there, what transpired and what the trip cost…They said they were doing a student exchange program, but we don’t know why the police chief was there and why the DPW director went. We’re in the dark on it now until he comes down.”
Councillor John Hanlon said the trip could likely be easily explained. He said often during these kinds of trips, there is a social component. Still, he said he hopes the mayor comes to the Council to talk it over.
“I hope he does,” said Hanlon.
Other councillors did not return a phone call in time for this story.
The piece on Channel 5 Investigates, done by reporter Kathy Curran, indicated that Mayor DeMaria and eight other City employees – including the police chief, DPW Director, and the Everett High principal – traveled to Italy.
It was also reported that the delegation stayed free of charge at the Hotel Altamira in Orsogna and Sei Stelle Bed and Breakfast in Sulmona. Curran also reported that the delegation received free meals, drinks and lunches – noting that Massachusetts law makes it illegal to accept free travel costs such as meals, hotel stays and entertainment unless for a legitimate purpose.
The report also indicates from City records that the delegation spent $16,081 in taxpayer monies on the trip.
Curran’s report also featured a governmental watchdog expert from Common Cause Massachusetts, Pam Wilmot, who said it’s something the State Ethics Commission ought to look at.
Meanwhile, DeMaria wrote in his op-ed that the trip included numerous meetings and more than just socializing, dancing and drinking – as the television report tended to focus on.
“Our hosts in Orsogna were very gracious in facilitating this Sister City trip, providing us with accommodations and meals,” he wrote. “This is consistent with a deep-seated culture of hospitality for visitorsthroughout the region. Our civic leaders in Everett look forward to offering any future visiting delegations to our city the same level of hospitality as we continue to strengthen ties.”
Some of the other activities included a trip to the city of L’Aquila in Abruzzo to tour the continuing devastation from earthquake in 2009.
Police Chief Steve Mazzie participated in a public safety conference in Orsogna with police chiefs and regional public safety officials. There was also a meeting with police in Rome, and an agreement to work cooperatively.
“Most significantly, this included a meeting and site visits with the Roman Capital Police to see how they secure Parliament and popular tourist destinations in Rome,” the mayor wrote. “The Everett Police Department is in the early stages of developing a program that will allow Italian police officers to come to Everett to shadow members of our police force to learn about the use of data analytics for crime prevention and community policing strategy.”
Finally, Mayor DeMaria said there was a business and trade agreement worked out. Orsogna is a huge winemaking region and has promoted its wines in Everett and Greater Boston. Likewise, Mayor DeMaria said he promoted Everett’s craft beer businesses and spirit distilling businesses.
“We promoted our Everett craft beer and spirit producers, and hope to open up the Italian market for them,” he wrote.
Meanwhile, Councillors said they would still like to have an explanation, and McKinnon said he will call for a feasibility study regarding the trip and its expenditures.
“If 10 people from the City go over to Italy, we want to know why they went and if they spent some $16,000 or $17,000,” he said.