(This story was updated to include additional information about Schor's international travel history at 9:17 a.m.)
WEDNESDAY, Jan. 12 — Lansing Mayor Andy Schor took an unannounced trip to Qatar last month to meet with foreign officials about economic development, climate change and other policy issues in hopes that the city can forge new international partnerships and investment.
Schor didn’t release any public notification of the trip either before he left or after he returned last month. City Pulse was only made aware after photos surfaced in out-of-state news outlets showing Schor standing alongside mayors and other top government officials in Qatar.
A spokesman for Schor said the quiet visit to Doha, Qatar, in “early" December was scheduled as part of the mayor’s involvement with the U.S. Conference of Mayors. The delegation met with government ministers and staff to “learn more and share ideas about trade, economic development, climate change, education, urban planning and hold meetings.”
“It was interesting and informative and helped secure friendships amongst the mayoral delegation, as well as develop relationships between Lansing and a major economic partner in the Middle East that could produce partnerships and investment in Lansing,” Schor explained.
The delegation also visited U.S. troops at Al Udeid Air Base, the largest overseas military airbase in the world, to learn more about its involvement with Afghan refugee resettlement.
Schor said that no city tax dollars were used to pay for the trip, nor did Schor use any cash from the Schor Lansing Fund, a nonprofit fund that operates outside of the bounds of Michigan’s campaign finance laws. Schor also uses it to cover his various incidental office expenses.
Instead, the tab for the trip was picked up by the government of Qatar, according to a city spokesman.
The Augusta Chronicle in Georgia reported that the recent delegation to the Persian Gulf state included Schor; Augusta Mayor Hardie Davis; Rochester Hills Mayor Bryan Barnett; Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt; Newark Mayor Ras Baraka and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.
Davis also didn’t publicly disclose any details about the trip until he was asked to do so, the Chronicle reports. County commissioners there have since called for a detailed audit of city finances, in part over concerns of a lack of transparency associated with the trip to Qatar.
“If your mayor represents your county, at least we ought to know when he’s out of the country,” Commissioner Catherine Smith McKnight told the Augusta Chronicle in a story from last week.
The wealthy nation of Qatar has reportedly faced widespread criticism from human rights groups (like Amnesty International) over exploiting migrant workers in the build-up to the 2022 Fifa World Cup, as well as concerns over the country’s documented stance on LGBTQ rights — perhaps why Schor’s communications team decided to skip out on a press release for the trip.
Unlike the dust-up in Augusta where commissioners were left in the dark on the travel plans, however, Councilman Peter Spadafore said that Schor personally notified him that he would be leaving the country and that as Council president, he may be asked to fill in as the city’s mayor. Still, neither Schor nor any Council members mentioned the trip at subsequent Council meetings. Spadafore said he “was under no obligation” to publicly release information about Schor’s travel.
In response to an open records request filed by the Chronicle, the city of Augusta released an eight-page report on the Qatar visit — including plans to possibly create a free-trade zone around the Augusta Regional Airport. A similar report was released by the city of Newark.
In his first term, Schor took three international trips as mayor — once to Japan and twice to China . A spokesman said that he has no other international trips planned.
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