Supervisor Foley Pushed “Unlawful Expenditure” to Send Son on Taxpayer-Funded Trip to China

    The former Costa Mesa mayor used a “sister city” program that was not established at the time to derive funding for the trip, and sidestepped city protocols.

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    Orange County Supervisor and former Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley sent her son to Shanghai, China, on a publicly funded trip. Foley obtained the funding from Costa Mesa city manager Tom Hatch on the basis of a purported sister city program with Shanghai – despite the fact that no such program existed.

    Katrina Foley, currently the Supervisor for Orange County’s 2nd District, served as mayor of Costa Mesa from 2016 through 2020. She had previously held a seat on the Costa Mesa City Council for over a decade and a stint on the Newport Mesa Unified School District Board of Trustees. During her time on the Board of Supervisors, she has been an outspoken advocate of mask and vaccine mandates. In 2021, she was the only member of the Board to vote in favor of a digital vaccine passport.

    The trip occurred in the spring of 2016. It involved seven students from Costa Mesa High School, one of which was Foley’s son, Benjamin, and an adult chaperone.

    Sister city programs became commonplace in the mid-twentieth century to promote cultural, social, and economic exchange between municipalities in different parts of the world. City records reveal that Costa Mesa has been sister cities with Wyndham, Australia, since 2007 and that this program has regularly involved high school exchange trips. However, there was no sister city program between Costa Mesa and Shanghai, China, in 2016.

    The 2016 Shanghai trip was first proposed by Mayor Foley in 2015 and later by Costa Mesa High School Mandarin Chinese teacher Lu Wang. All told, it received $11,250 in public funds. The Foley family was given $1,250 of this money. This request was never voted on by the Costa Mesa City Council, as would have been appropriate protocol.

    This decision was criticized at the time by Jim Righeimer, a Costa Mesa council member, who wrote that Foley’s actions were “very disturbing” and that “The council never authorized spending on any sister city program in China. The council was never notified of this.”

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