|July 16, 2019, 7:00 p.m. UPDATE: Council votes without dissent to approve the consent calendar without discussion. No member(s) of the public or organizations speak to the Mayor's Honolulu travel.
(July 16, 2019, 10:05 a.m.) -- Mayor Robert Garcia has explicitly agendized as a "consent calendar" City Council item tonight (July 16) -- with no Council discussion unless a Councilmember(s) requests it -- a "report" on his travel to Honolulu to attend the annual meeting of what amounts to a membership club for Mayors. The "U.S. Conference of Mayors" is a privately operated group run by and for Mayors. It gives Mayors an opportunity to hobnob, boost their visibility and vote on policy resolutions on national and international matters.
Mayor Garcia could use his officeholder account -- funded by contributors, not LB taxpayers -- to pay for it, but in agendizing the item we presume that he plans to seek taxpayer reimbursement for it. At the time, he Tweeted an incomplete description of it -- neatly avoiding mention of its Honoluylu venue -- and predictably portrayed his travel as "representing" Long Beach. But exactly how was he "representing" the interests of LB taxpayers in Honolulu besides promoting himself in what you see below?
In now agendizing the item as City Council "consent calendar" item, Mayor Garcia seems eager to avoid public discussion of how much he wants to charge LB taxpayers for his entirely discretionary and arguably dubious travel. Here's the text of Mayor Garcia's "report" he doesn't want audibly reported at the July 16 Council meeting:
[Agendizing memo text] Recommendation: Receive and file report under the Consent Calendar on travel to Honolulu June 28-July 1, 2019 for the US Conference of Mayors 2019 Annual Meeting.
[Scroll down for further.]
Garcia's membership in the Mayor's club costs LB taxpayers $17,511 (billed annually; source: Conference of Mayors' website). His recent junket to Honolulu presumably also entailed sums to register for the event on top of the round trip air fare, hotel accommodations, meals and the like. It's not immediately clear if he was accompanied by an entourage from his unprecedented ten-member taxpayer paid staff. Exactly what benefits totaling nearly $20,000 did LB taxpayers receive from Garacia's membership in the Mayor's club and recent junket to Honolulu?
Regardless of whether one believes Mayor Garcia's junkets and membership perks somehow serve the public's interests beyond his own, it's clear to us that he could use his contributor-funded (not taxpayer funded) "officeholder account" to pay for those costs. That's easier than it's been in the past because in 2015, a Council majority (led by then newly elected Councilwoman (now state Senator) Lena Gonzalez) changed LB law to triple the annual amounts that the Mayor and Council can amass annually in their "officeholder accounts."
City Clerk records show that in the second half of 2018, Garcia collected (rounded) $45,800 for his "officeholder account" and amassed (rounded) $64,850 for the full year. On Dec. 31, 2018, Garcia's officeholder account had $8,636 with $3,241 in debts but with Garcia free to begin collecting up to $75,000 again starting Jan. 1, 2019.
LB taxpayers will see tonight if ANY of their Councilmember seek to discuss -- much less question -- how much their taxpaying constituents are being forced to pay for perks like this. The Mayor's desired non-dicussion "consent calendar" item occurs on the same night that a separate item is agendized to declare a "fiscal emergency" to enable a ballot measure for a special March 2020 citywide election (additional taxpayer cost). Its purpose is to renege on the City's explicit words in a 2016 ballot measure and now seek to make permanent a tax increase that the 2016 measure told taxpayers three years ago would be temporary.
Mayor Garcia declared in his Jan. 2019 "State of the City" message that Long Beach has "fiscally responsible government." Six months later, he publicly wants the Council to declare a "fiscal emergency." The truth is, the "fiscal emergency" stems from spending that the Mayor applauded and the Council approved.
To our knowledge, nothing legally prevents Mayor Garcia from using his contributor-funded officeholder account to pay for his desired travel. LB Councilmembers may not be able to force him to use his officeholder accounts for his travel junkets, but they can urge him to do the right thing. If he makes excuses and refuses, the Council can start by reducing Garcia's office budget, including his bloated ten member taxpayer paid staff, in our opinion disproportionate for a mainly ceremonial Mayor without executive power or policy setting authority. .
If LB's incumbent Councilmembers again put this Mayor's desires above LB taxpayers' interests, it will give LB voters another reason -- beyond their recent votes enabling a million dollar "media wall" and six figure "furniture enhancements") -- to grasp that LB City Hall doesn't have a "fiscal emergency" or a revenue problem. It has a spending problem.
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