by Zach Chouteau
Richmond Mayor Tom Butt sharply criticized a planned trip to China by various city representatives in September as a waste of taxpayer dollars.
In an ‘e-forum’ bulletin dispersed Friday, Mayor Butt referred to Item I-20 on the July 18 City Council Agenda, which authorizes the expenditure of at least $9,500 to send one city council member and three City staff members to an Island Tourism Conference in Zhoushan, China, which has held a “sister city” partnership with Richmond since 1993.
The trip would include business meetings between Port Director Jim Matzorkis and Chinese officials, along with meetings to set up an exchange program for local teachers and students.
While the mayor supports the sister city relationship, he says regular trips by local officials to China have not been fruitful and serve more as vacations.
“It is time to explode the myth that these trips to China, primarily promoted and paid for by the Port of Richmond, have resulted in business for the Port or Chinese investments in Richmond,” Butt said. “The City of Richmond has spent well over $100,000 in the last two decades sending delegations to China, primarily Port staff. There is no evidence of any return on investment for these China trips.”
In a 2014 Richmond Confidential article on this very matter, Richmond Port Director Jim Matzorkis credited the sister city relationship for leading to major waterfront developments at Riggers Loft, which has been renovated to house wineries, and also at Terminal 1 for new housing. In city documents, a log export operation at Terminal 3 was also cited as resulting from the sister city accord.
Mayor Butt disputes those claims.
“The Port of Richmond claims that the investment of Mr. Wu in the Riggers Loft and Terminal 1 is Exhibit A in proof of the value of China travel,” the Richmond mayor said. “The fact is that the infamous (and mysterious) Mr. Wu lives not in China but in Atlanta, and his investments in Richmond projects are totally unrelated to China travel.”
Butt says the city’s funds could be better spent on crime prevention, street repairs and other items.
“It is time for the Port of Richmond staff to stay home for a while and take care of Port business, which is being badly neglected,” Butt said.
Read Mayor Butt’s full e-forum report on this matter here.