EXCLUSIVE: Birmingham Mayor William Bell addresses criticism of international travel

For the first time in an exclusive interview with ABC 33/40, Birmingham Mayor William Bell addressed public criticism of his frequent international trips.Bell said many of his overseas trips are paid for by other agencies not local taxpayers.{}

However, ABC 33/40 has learned taxpayers pay to send his staffers with him as well as pay for some of his domestic trips. Bell's travel expenses do not come before the City Council for a vote. But the city spokesperson says, since January 2012, roughly $70,000 of city funds have been spent on Bell's domestic and international travel."I'm not going to bankrupt this city. I am not going to leave this city in a position where it is struggling," Bell said.Some have said Bell is too busy globe-trotting. For example, last week he attended a meeting in Switzerland for a United Nations meeting on eliminating discrimination. In July, he and other leaders traveled to London for the Farnborough International Air Show. Then, there were two trips in June, including the International Festival for Business in England and the World War II D-Day Commemoration in France.Bell told ABC 33/40 next week he will travel to Japan for the Southeast U.S.-Japan Association meeting. He insisted that Birmingham will host the event in 2015, mainly because he traveled to the country two years ago. He says the Japanese business-related meeting could generate millions in economic impact for the city."I'm looking for ways to grow the economic opportunities for this city and the best way to do that is through bringing conferences, conventions and jobs here to this community," Bell said. "It's all about building the image of Birmingham," he added.When ABC 33/40 reporter Marissa Mitchell asked if the travel is worth the costs, Bell replied, "I'll let you make the judgment on that."Stay with ABC 33/40 for more on this developing story.