LONG BEACH — Councilman Warren Harwood has billed the city a total of $1,866 for trips this year to New Orleans for a National Organization for Women convention and to Sacramento, where he was a delegate to the state Democratic Party convention.
No other member of the nine-person council has charged the city for expenses at a political convention during the last year, city records show, nor has a member sought reimbursement for expenses at a conference of a non-governmental advocacy group such as NOW.
Harwood, who represents the 9th District in North Long Beach, said in interviews that both trips were "entirely legitimate" as city business. "There were dozens of different matters pertinent to what I do as a councilman" at each convention.
Mayor Ernie Kell and City Auditor Robert Fronke approved paying the expenses for both trips, but both Kell and Fronke said Long Beach regulations do not call for them to evaluate the kinds of trips council members take at city expense.
Harwood described the New Orleans convention, which ran July 19 to 21, as a "fact-finding" session during which he became more familiar with issues such as comparable pay for women employees, gay and lesbian rights and the AIDS crisis.
The comparable worth issue has been raised by Long Beach city employee unions, and gay rights and AIDS are of continuing interest here because of the city's large homosexual population, he said. About 40,000 gays and lesbians live in Long Beach, according to gay activists.
Harwood said he was not aware before the national NOW convention that the organization's California affiliate had scheduled its annual convention for mid-August in Long Beach. He did not attend the state convention at the local Hyatt Edgewater, he said.
Harwood's presence in New Orleans was noted by several members of the Long Beach branch of NOW, chapter co-coordinator Marie Garside said.
Local Group Puzzled
"There were questions about why he had never contacted the Long Beach NOW about any of these issues," Garside said. "We hold our meetings in North Long Beach, and he has never attended our meetings or called any of us. There are so many active women's groups in Long Beach, it's just really funny he didn't start here."
Harwood was among a council minority that last spring favored limiting Long Beach's annual gay pride festival to one day instead of two. Two weeks ago, he said he would oppose an ordinance for Long Beach like the one enacted in Los Angeles that protects AIDS patients from discrimination in jobs, housing and health care.
Harwood said that his attendance at the state Democratic Party convention was a logical extension of city business. On Friday, Jan. 25, the first day of the three-day trip, he met with a state Caltrans official about construction of a freeway noise barrier, then made two other stops at the Capitol, the councilman said.
Met With State Senator
He then pursued city business at the convention, he said, by meeting briefly on the convention floor with Democratic state Sen. Ralph C. Dills, whose 30th District includes North Long Beach, and by attempting to meet with Assemblyman David Elder (D-Long Beach).
Elder said that he had planned to meet with Harwood about a bill on noise barriers on the 91 Freeway but had to change his schedule at the last minute.
Harwood said it is important to understand that he, unlike several other council members, works full time and is not available to attend many conferences.
The councilman said the Sacramento trip, including the political convention, was a rare opportunity to catch many public officials in the same place at the same time. "Democrats were in Sacramento, and it was an unusual opportunity to accomplish a number of things for a person like myself who works," he said.
The city paid $390 for the Sacramento trip, including a $118 airfare, $149 for hotel accommodations for two nights and $122 in out-of-pocket expenses. It paid $1,476 on the New Orleans trip, including $652 for airfare, $374 for hotel accommodations for four nights, $160 for car rental, a $45 conference registration fee and $245 in other expenses. That total does not count $101.58 Harwood spent on personal expenses.
There is no regulation that provides for detailed review of council members' city-paid trips to determine if they are legitimate city business, Fronke said.
The mayor signs off on all such trips, but he said he does not check to see if council members' trips include city business.
"Each council member is responsible to the general public for his behavior," Kell said. He added, however, that "each council member has a particular field of interest. Marc Wilder is really heavy into transportation, for example . . . . So I can see where a trip to New Orleans would further Mr. Harwood's expertise in the area of women's rights."
Once signed by the mayor, council travel claims are forwarded to the Department of Financial Management for a check and then to Fronke, the auditor said.
"They rely on me to audit these things," Fronke said. But there is no way the auditor can determine how much training or insight a councilman gets from a particular conference, he said. "I can't be the council's conscience on those sorts of things."