9 Investigates Orlando City Commission travel budgets

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Orlando tax dollars paid for Orlando City Commissioner Daisy Lynum and a police escort to attend a conference in the small West African country of Equatorial Guinea, a country more than 5,000 miles away from Orlando.

Channel 9's Lori Brown learned Lynum had travel expenses during a five-year period totaling nearly as much as the five other city commissioners combined.

When Brown recently approached the commissioner at a public meeting to ask about her travel, Lynum said, "I have that prerogative. I have that budget. Why is that a problem to you?"

9 Investigates spent months trying to arrange an interview with Lynum about her travel expenses, but after getting no response, Brown caught up with her at an Orlando-Orange County Metro Plan Orlando Transportation Board meeting.

"We wanted to talk to you about how your travel expenses benefited," Brown asked.

"Why don't you just read it?" Lynum responded. "I mean, you can go and read my travel expenses."

Looking for a reason for Lynum's trip, Brown searched city documents and only found that the conference's stated purpose was to "empower Equatorial Guinea."

Brown also found the conference was hosted by the country's president, who is under fire from human-rights groups.

During the conference, Lynum sat on a panel titled, "Women Issues and Youth."

Her police liaison's name, meanwhile, was handwritten under the panel, "Security and Emergency Recovery."

"And I am so happy that he went," Lynum said. "I really encouraged him to go."

During the last five fiscal years, Orlando taxpayers funded Lynum's trips at a total cost of nearly $60,000, city records show.

"I'm telling you, I choose to travel," Lynum said.

"It's taxpayer dollars, so that's why I'm asking you about it," Brown explained.

"Because I travel," Lynum said.

"And can you explain for us how that is benefiting your constituents?" Brown asked.

"It does by my representation. I'm a good commissioner, and I do very, very well," Lynum answered.

Calculating Lynum's travel expenses, Brown found that they add up to nearly as much as the five other Orlando city commissioners combined over five years.

During the last fiscal year, Lynum spent $3,000 more on travel than Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and his staff.

"If there's no benefit to the city of Orlando, then she needs to refund it," said Orlando resident Najee Abdullah.

Orlando Commissioner Robert Stuart pushed a plan to make all commissioners justify their expenses, but his efforts failed due to lack of support.

"I think every commissioner has to be held accountable for how they spend their money, to the city, to the mayor," Stuart said.

Most of Lynum's trips were out of state. Attending the Congressional Black Caucus in Washington, D.C., last year cost taxpayers $1,900.

The National League of Cities conferences in New Orleans, Charleston, S.C., and Washington, D.C., cost a combined $4,500.

Lynum said she sees no need to cut back on her travels at city expense.

"As long as I'm with the city, I'm going to travel every chance I get to do what is right by my constituency and the Orlando community," Lynum told Brown.

Orlando commissioners have discretion over how much they spend on travel. A city spokesperson said the National League of Cities paid for the rest of Lynum's expenses to Equitorial Guinea.