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Medford rethinks overseas staff trip to Georgia

The Medford City Council on Thursday trashed a proposal to send city staff to Batumi in the Adjara Republic of Georgia to help sort out that city’s garbage woes.

“How is this the highest and best use of your time?” Councilor Chris Corcoran asked City Manager Eric Swanson. “Is it really critical that you go two weeks a year to the city of Batumi?”

Swanson said the city would be spending $32,000 over a four-year period as part of a delegation with representatives from Rogue Disposal and Recycling.

Swanson said he wouldn’t be going personally, but some city staff members would go along with the U.S. Agency for International Development and the International City/County Management Association.

“It would be an economic development opportunity with some new overseas contacts,” Swanson said.

He likened the assistance to the kind of relationship Medford has enjoyed for decades with its sister city in Alba, Italy.

Councilor Eli Matthews made a motion to approve the expenditure, but it died because the motion wasn’t seconded.

Councilor Tim Jackle said he was concerned about staff members staying for a two-week stretch in a country that isn’t politically stable.

“I have trouble sending people to a part of the world that is volatile,” he said.

Councilor Dick Gordon said the city has enough troubles at home, citing the ongoing problems finding a place to feed the homeless.

Garry Penning, spokesman for Rogue Disposal, told the council the garbage situation in Batumi is similar to what it was like in the Rogue Valley more than 40 years ago.

Garbage is dumped into open pits that aren’t lined, he said.

Rogue Disposal was going to lend its expertise in handling solid waste. The city was going to provide its expertise in developing contracts with a private enterprise for waste disposal.

The delegation from the Rogue Valley was scheduled to go to Batumi in November.

Councilor Daniel Bunn was the only council member to voice support for the idea.

He said the U.S. has spent a lot of money on environmental protection, and he said he thought this was a cost-effective way of helping another area of the world.

“Environmental protection is a global issue,” Bunn said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or email dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow on Twitter at @reporterdm.