DOWNEY - Questions have been raised recently by Mayor Anne Bayer on the value of trips by City Council members, especially to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., when the city is operating on a deficit.Bayer, for example, has spent less than $100 of her "allocation" of $2,400 a year, while Councilman Mario Guerra is $351.63 "over his budget allocation," Councilman Roger Brossmer is "slightly under" $2,400, Mayor Pro Tem Luis Marquez "slightly over" his so-called allocation, while Councilman Dave Gafin has used up only less than $500. The Herald-American first published a story on council members' travel budgets last week. "There is no set allocation for each council member," City Manager Gerald Caton told the Downey Patriot. "This year the Council budgeted $8,000 for trips to Sacramento and Washington, D.C., and $12,000 divvied up among the five council members, or $2,400 per, to spend as they see fit on travel and other purposes when there is a substantial benefit to the city." Note, too, that there are other purposes on which the $12,000 may be "appropriately" spent: a council member, especially a newly elected one, may justifiably attend seminars on local governance, or one may officially represent the city as a member of various regional or state organizations. There are other purposes, all legitimate ones, for spending what are generally called travel and meeting expenses. "As city manager, I'm concerned about the total expenditure," said Caton. "In 2008-09, the city spent $35,000. This fiscal year, as of April 30, out of a total budget of $20,000, only $16,736 has so far been spent. Even if the total of $20,000 is spent by June 30, we will have cut down on last year's spending by 40 percent." "Guerra, as we know, is a very gregarious and aggressive individual. He serves on the executive boards of both the Contract Cities Association and the Independent Cities Association, and is therefore a very active representative for the city. He may exceed his so-called 'allocation'. The fact is there is no such allocation. Like I said, I look at the total expense. As long as one can justify his expenses within the total budget, I see no reason for people to get excited. In my long tenure with the city, I have encountered no abuse of the system. If there seems to be unreasonable expenses incurred, we require the council members to pay them out of their pocket." Bayer said she cannot understand why lobbying trips to Washington, D.C. have to be made when "we already have a lobbyist working for us over there. How can your voice be heard when there are 500 other people vying for attention?" Individual council members have discretion over what they deem to be necessary trips. "Traditionally you would not go over our budget, but these people are not traditionalists," Bayer, speaking of her colleagues, told the Herald-American. Guerra defended his travels. "We travel when asked by staff. I am very proud of the fact that as mayor last year I, along with three of my colleagues on the city council, were successful in bringing to Downey over $16 million in federal stimulus money," he said. "And we did this being under 20 percent under our travel and meeting budget. We as a council have never been over budget and we are not over today. We are concentrating on the bigger issues for our city and working together for the best interest of our community. We are doing some great things and petty political non-issues like this only distracts from the business of Downey." Caton pointed out that the funds under discussion are never taken from the General Fund. He said he is thinking of proposing to cut out the budget for travel and meeting purposes altogether next fiscal year.
********** Published: May 7, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 3