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Is the City’s $5,500 F1 Trip Worth It?

David Ashcroft,

Just months before Formula One arrives in Austin, city officials left today to tour the F1 Silverstone circuit in Northampton, England, and meet with race and safety officials.

Mayor Lee Leffingwell and City Manager Marc Ott have their full travel expenses covered the Circuit of the Americas, the organization responsible for building the Austin-area track and hosting the race.

The other city officials, including Police Chief Art Acevedo and Fire Chief Rhonda Mae Kerr, have a portion of their expenses covered; their flights are being paid for with approximately $5,500 in city taxpayer dollars.

Mark Lisheron, the Austin bureau chief of online news journal Texas Watchdog, disputes the purpose of the trip.

“You can put a bow on it and you can say it’s a fact-finding mission but it’s a junket,”  Lisheron says.

In a memo sent to the City Council last week, Ott said the trip provided “the opportunity to speak directly with officials who have successfully hosted Formula One for decades.”

Ott writes that various city departments visited Arlington, Texas – site of the 2011 Super Bowl – and Fort Worth – site of the Texas Motor Speedway – to learn about traffic management, public safety and communication challenges associated with large-scale events. “We will learn best management practices and will seek to uncover any unknown for which we have not already planned,” Ott said in the memo.

 “This is all information they could have gotten easily by phone – if they wanted,” Lisheron says. “I’m not sure what Mayor Leffingwell is going to come back with that will make the experience out at Circuit of the Americas any better for the people who are going to be paying for tickets.”

The city council has been briefed on several anticipated aspects of F1, covering topics from public safety to private helicopter permits.

You can read the city manager’s memo online

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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