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Hawthorne Shifts Direction on Travel Reimbursement

August 22, 1985|GEORGE STEIN | Times Staff Writer

HAWTHORNE — Police Chief Kenneth Stonebraker spent $4,930 on travel and conferences in the last two years. James Mitsch, the city's chief of public works and general services, spent $4,575.

No one is suggesting that either of the two men, the top spenders of city money for travel and conferences during that period, did anything wrong. In accordance with city regulations in effect at that time, they each flew first-class and received $100 per day for expenses (City Council members got $150 a day) for each day of travel--regardless of how much they actually spent.

The system has been changed, however, as part of the city's response to a report by a Los Angeles County grand jury that examined a variety of city practices.

Although it was prompted by numerous complaints from Hawthorne residents, the report found no evidence of crime or abuse in any of the areas it examined, including the handling of travel expenses.

Critical of Policies

But it was critical of city policies in several areas and recommended changes. It recommended that the city adopt a travel policy that reimbursed actual expenses, documented by receipts. It said the old system was "subject to abuse."

City Manager Kenneth Jue, who ranked seventh for travel and conferences expenses with $2,768 during the last two years, has already implemented that recommendation. He is expected to address the grand jury's other criticisms at a City Council meeting on Sept. 9.

Stonebraker and Mitsch said the new system of reimbursement will not save money for the city because employees actually lose money under the flat-fee system. Both expect to benefit from the new system.

"I think it is great," said Stonebraker. "It is going to be cheaper for me. I don't know if you have been to San Francisco, but you are talking 100 bucks a night for a hotel unless you stay at a sleaze bag. I'll make out. I'll get back what it costs me."

Mitsch agreed. "I challenge anyone to live on $100 a day, even at the median-range hotel."

Pay More Money

He added that with "actual expenses, you are going to get an increase. People are not going to stay in the same room. . . . You are going to get Hyatt Regency instead of Holiday Inn bills. . . . I think the citizens of Hawthorne are going to pay more money for the expenses of department heads."

Stonebraker said he attended many conferences in response to a city report that faulted his department for lack of participation in police organizations. Mitsch said he traveled frequently to conferences because he is in charge of "six or seven different departments."

Just about everyone who was anyone in Hawthorne city government--the entire City Council, the city manager, department heads, 17 officials in all--went to San Francisco for the 1983 annual conference of the League of California Cities. And four officials traveled to New Orleans for the National League of Cities conference.

In the spring of 1984, 14 officials went to Escondido for a joint retreat with the Hawthorne Chamber of Commerce. Stonebraker attended meetings of the California Chiefs of Police in San Diego, Sacramento and San Francisco. Mitsch went to Detroit for a public works conference, to San Francisco for redevelopment planning, to Dallas for a planning meeting and to Sacramento to talk to state government officials.

Top 10 Spenders

The top 10 users of city travel and conference money spent $32,029--almost three-fourths of the total, $44,678.37, that was spent between July 1, 1983, and June 30, 1985.

After Stonebraker and Mitsch, the rest of the top 10 spenders of travel and conference money were Councilman Chuck Bookhammer, $3,669; Councilman David York, $3,041; Deputy City Clerk Joan Fitzsimmons, $2,914; Fire Chief Ralph Hardin, $2,882; Jue, $2,768; Councilman Steve Andersen, $2,577; Finance Director Isamu Takata, $2,539, and City Treasurer Howard Wohlner, $2,134. Mayor Guy Hocker spent only $900.

Other matters criticized by the grand jury were:

- Nepotism--The city manager is seeking guidance from council members on what sort of rules should restrict family members working for the city.

The grand jury found "numerous instances" of relatives, friends or former business associates of city staff who had been hired by the city. It recommended a prohibition against city employment of relatives of the City Council, the city manager and the Civil Service Commission and a ban on relatives supervising each other, making hiring decisions about each other or working in the same department with one other.

- Bidding for trash collection contracts--The grand jury criticized the city for keeping the same trash contractor since 1957 without competitive bidding. In January, it said, Hawthorne residents paid about 21% more for trash collection than residents of comparable cities. City officials say the service provided by H&C Disposal Co., the trash collection company, for the $7.85 monthly residential collection fee is excellent and well worth the additional cost.

The city manager will recommend bidding for the trash contract when the current contract expires in 1991.

"Five years from now, that is their privilege," said H&C president George Tumanjan. "All I am doing is trying to make a living."

- City inventory--The grand jury noted that Hawthorne has not yet implemented the recommendations of a grand jury report of two years ago to take an inventory of city property. The city manager said the city will begin doing so.

- Use of credit cards--Some officials used city credit cards for meals but failed to note the purpose or people present, according to the grand jury. Jue said the city sees no need to change its policy.

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