Hamilton reimburses flight change

Councilman pays city $310 for controversial trip

District 1 Councilman Malcolm Hamilton paid the City of Odessa $310.04 to reimburse taxpayers for a six-day extension to his controversial trip to Minneapolis last month.

A receipt shows Hamilton paid the reimbursement in cash at 3:14 p.m. Thursday, as the Houston Chronicle was preparing a story following up on the Odessa American’s reporting. A report in the Houston Chronicle appeared that evening.

Hamilton’s trip to Minneapolis spanned from Jan. 20 to Jan. 31 and cost taxpayers $2,102.03 before the reimbursement. The expense covered plane tickets, a five-day car rental and a three-night hotel stay at a hotel connected to the Mall of America, more than 10 miles away from Minneapolis’ downtown.

Hamilton has refused to answer questions about the controversial trip for more than a week. But the councilman has offered evolving explanations in a prepared statement and in interviews with other media outlets.

The ostensible purpose of the trip was to study the Minneapolis downtown. But the city has only one record of city business conducted on the 12-day trip — a meeting with the president of the Minneapolis Downtown Council that lasted about 75 minutes on one day of the trip.

City Attorney Larry Long accompanied Hamilton for that brief meeting during his only full-day in Minneapolis. Long’s trip, which also included two travel days, cost taxpayers $1,455.85 for two nights in a hotel, travel and meals including a lunch and dinner with Hamilton.

Not much came of the meeting, Long previously told the Odessa American. He and the councilman said they toured downtown Minneapolis too.

Hamilton extended the trip on Jan. 25, the day he returned his rental car, and charged taxpayers for the new plane ticket.

The OA first reported the trip online in a Feb. 25 story that also revealed the city’s 20-year-old travel policy governing tax-payers funded trips by City Council members was not followed.

On Monday, Hamilton released a statement:

“I choose [sic] to extend my trip so that I might take full advantage of the trip and expense to further tour Downtown attractions such as: The Hotels, Apartments, theaters, museums, a sculpture garden, restaurants ranging from food trucks to fine dining and pocket parks.”

The statement included no material outcomes or plans emerging from his trip or from touring the “attractions” that tourists would commonly visit on vacation.

On Tuesday, Hamilton offered a new explanation in an interview with CBS 7, in which he also said “there is no misuse of taxpayers’ dollars.”

“There was a family emergency that did come up, and it came up days before I was to travel back,” Malcolm said at another point in the interview. “In support of a family member, I did stay behind. But I did also tour the rest of Minneapolis.”

He also said he stayed with family, CBS 7 reported.