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| Columns |

Natacha Seijas and Audrey Edmonson: Luxury Travel on Taxpayer Dime in Tough Times

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Every so often, Banana Republican daydreams of traveling the world with Miami-Dade County Commissioner Natacha Seijas, serenading her with the sweet sounds of the toot flute in Peru. I also fantasize about not spending a dime to visit Macchu Pichu and the like. I mean, while services are being whacked, she charges luxury travel to taxpayers.

As chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Jay Malina International Trade Consortium, Seijas has touched down in eight cities outside the United States in 2008 and 2009. Among them were Istanbul and Taipei. Seijas' globe trotting ways cost Miami-Dade taxpayers $18,493 in airfare, hotel stays, and daily meals.

And she's not the only county commissioner to take advantage of the publicly funded trips to exotic locales. The county recently footed the $5,747 bill for Commish Audrey Edmonson's two-week sojourn to Dakar in Senegal, and Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa. Of course, the elected officials don't travel alone. Taxpayers paid a total of $68,831 to have consortium executive director Jose "Tony" Ojeda and other staffers accompany Seijas and Edmonson.

In Cape Town, Edmonson checked into The Cullinan, a stylish hotel that offers views of Table Mountain or the sea-side city's breathtaking waterfront view.

Seijas is no slouch when it comes to hotel accommodations either, having stayed at Hilton hotels in Osaka, Prague and Istanbul, the Hotel Intercontinental in Warsaw and the five-star Agora Garden Hotel in Taipei.

The purpose of these trips is for the commissioners to promote the "economic advantages" of Miami-Dade County -- like the bustling foreclosure industry and the third-world entrepreneurial spirit of its residents. Hey, it's no secret that we're the number one producer of homemade straw hat vendors in the U.S. of A.!

But one high-ranking county executive calls the consortium a "God awful waste of money. Ojeda rakes in close to $160,000 a year to arrange power presentations of Seijas handing out clocks and proclamations to foreign officials who aren't really interested in doing business in Miami-Dade."

Well, this year Seijas may have to opt for trips closer to home. The County Commission cut the consortium's travel budget by 50 percent.

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