|(Jan. 23, 2020, 6:25 p.m.) -- Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia wasn't present (and knew well in advance that he wouldn't be present) for the Jan. 21 City Council meeting that took up neighborhood impacting short term rentals, the $85 million Tidelands-fund draining Belmont Beach and Aquatic Center and policies affecting whether dogs and cats at LB's Animal Shelter are adopted or killed.
He knew he would be packing his bags or in transit or arriving in Washington, D.C. for the Jan. 22-24 winter meeting of the "U.S. Conference of Mayors," a privately run non-governmental membership organization of Mayors. It's effectively a Mayors' club, funded by membership dues (often unknowingly paid by local taxpayers), event registration fees and corporate sponsorships, all giving the member Mayors a venue to hobnob and boost their visibility in sessions discussing national and sometimes international issues. The group's July 2019 meeting was Honolulu and Mayor Garcia attended it too; its winter meetings are traditionally held in Washington, D.C.
During the Jan 22-24, 2020 event, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti is scheduled to speak or moderate six meeting sessions, one of which is titled "Infrastructure and the Mayors' 2020 Vision for America." It includes LB Mayor Garcia, who'll speak on "ports and airports" as chair of Conference of Mayors' "Ports and Exports Task Force." Mayor Garcia will also co-moderate (with San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer) a session on "Ports and Trade Developments" to "hear updates on the United States-Mexico-Canada agreement (USMCA/NAFTA 2.0), and the Import-Export Bank of the United States."
Mayor Garcia's membership dues in the "U.S. Conference of Mayors" cost at least $17,511 (billed annually; source: Conference of Mayors' website).
Then there's the registration fee for the Jan 22-24 event. For Mayor's club members like Garcia it was $750 (until Dec 13), $950 (Dec. 13-Jan. 17) $1,150 on site. Then there's the hotel room. The organizers suggest either the Capital Hilton ($319 per night for a standard room, or $363 per night for an Executive Level Room) or the St. Regis Hotel (a five star luxury hotel where all rooms $410 per night) and all DC rooms are taxed at 14.96% per room. Then there are meals in DC and air fare to and from DC.
Exactly what public benefits LB taxpayers received for these spending items totaling roughly $20,000 isn't clear to us, but it is clear to us that LB taxpayers shouldn't have to pay for them.
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Mayor Garcia could use his contributor-funded "officeholder account" to pay for his membership in the Mayor's Club and its insider-event junkets from Honolulu to DC. It's easier than ever for Garcia to tap his officeholder account for this, since in 2015 a Council majority enabled LB incumbents to triple the annual amounts they can solicit and collect from contributors to their "officeholder accounts." As a citywide elected, Garcia was the major beneficiary of this and can now amass up to $75,000 annually from friendly contributors to his "officeholder account."
As of June 30, 2019, Mayor Garcia reported that he had collected $30,884 for his "officeholder account" in the first six months of 2019 and had $11,400 left as of June 30, 2019. (An updated report for second half of 2019 is due no later than Jan. 31, 2020.)
Previous LB Mayors, and Mayor Garcia himself since mid-2014, have treated their memberships in the Mayors Club and its insider junkets in as entitlements, but in our opinion, it's time to reform that practice.
Mayor Garcia can and should already legally pay for the DC trip, and his Mayor's Club membership, from his officeholder account. He should do that now. If he refuses, your current or future Councilmember (with elections in Council districts 2, 6 and 8 in March 2020) can and should require him (and future Mayors) to use their officeholder accounts instead of taxpayer funds to pay for their memberships in privately run groups like the Mayor's club and expenses related to its events.
On the March 2020 LB ballot (vote by mail ballots flying soon) alongside choices for Councilmembers in three Council districts), Mayor Garcia and LB's Council incumbents are asking LB taxpayers to permanently impose the Measure A General Fund "blank check" sales tax. The Council voted (without dissent) to declare a "fiscal emergency" to do so.
Can you think of better uses for the $20,000+ than the Mayor's club dues and self-promotional insider event costs we cited above?
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