New Jersey: Baraka says recent trip to Ghana came at his own expense

photo_561NJ.Com – Ras Baraka recently returned from a lengthy trip to Ghana, though he says taxpayers need not fear they may have unwittingly foot the bill.

The Newark mayor says he spent 11 days in the West African nation between Feb. 11 and Feb. 21, visiting schools, hospitals, waste treatment plants and other facilities. In an interview Wednesday, he said the trip came after an invitation by the country’s First Lady to the city of Accra, one of three Ghanaian communities with whom he established new “sister city” relationships.

“We’re going to try to do some things around exchange trips with students,” he said. “There’s a lot of things we’re going to be doing back and forth with those cities. I had an incredible time….I’m really excited.”

The mayor is hardly the first Newark official to travel to Ghana. Since the 1990s, the city has sent various representatives to the country to foster an exchange of ideas and cultures with another sister city, Kumasi.

The bills for the trips, however, have sometimes proven controversial. In 2008, several council members attended a conference in Kumasi hosted by the Global Women’s Leadership Collaborative – costing taxpayers $16,000 for transportation, accommodations, educational materials and support staff in the process.

Baraka, however, said he had taken pains to ensure his trip would raise no such concerns.

“That’s because somebody else paid for it,” he said. “I paid for (my trip), myself.”

Two members of his security detail, as well as members of the Ghanaian Way Council, a Newark-based non-profit organization, accompanied the mayor. City Communications Director Frank Baraff said every member of the group paid their own way, though the two security officers are likely to have their expenses reimbursed through private sources.

He shared several photos and videos from his trip via social media, and has continued to publicly document what he characterized as a profoundly eye-opening experience.

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