LONG BEACH — The City Council overspent its travel and entertainment budget by 58% last fiscal year, with the average council member spending $7,904 and taking eight trips, nearly all to government-related conferences or meetings, city records show.
The council budgeted $45,000 for the fiscal year that ended June 30 but spent $71,140, according to the records. The nine council members took 69 trips in 1984-85 that required airline transportation or hotel accommodations.
James Wilson was the council's most traveled member, taking 18 trips to cities as distant as Washington, Boston, Pittsburgh and Anchorage over the last 15 months.
Councilwoman Jan Hall has traveled least, making just one trip since June, 1984--a one-night jaunt to Sacramento that cost the city $232.
Exact Expenses Unknown
Exact travel expenditures by each council member were not available. Such tabulations are not made by the city, and records to which the public has access are incomplete because reimbursement vouchers are sometimes filed months after the actual expense.
Responding to the 1984-85 overrun, council members have tried to cut back on travel to meet a $45,000 budget this fiscal year, said Mayor Ernie Kell.
City records show that since July 1 council members have taken 15 trips, including seven this weekend to a League of California Cities conference in San Francisco. Seven members have also signed up for a National League of Cities conference in Seattle in December.
Several council members said they either didn't know of the excess spending or hadn't given it much thought.
Councilman Tom Clark said he knew the budget had been supplemented to meet expenses, but expressed surprise that the difference between budget and expenses was so large.
"I don't recall ever having that much of a difference," said Clark, who was mayor for seven years and has been on the council since 1966.
Wilson, who represents the 6th District in the central city, said he knew nothing of the overrun and intends to continue his city-sponsored traveling.
"I don't consider the trips I take to be useless trips, so if I want to learn something, I will go," said Wilson. "I don't feel any obligation to cut back. . . . My wife says I should feel some obligation to cut back on the time I spend on that council for $1,000 a month."
Council members are part-time employees. They earn $12,000 a year, except for the mayor, who receives $13,200.
The council is split philosophically over the value of trips to conferences and seminars.
Kell said he does not think the council is taking too many trips, and that travel, to some degree, indicates how active a council member is.
"I know Tom Clark is very active with the national and state (leagues of cities), and that takes a lot of time," said Kell. "I admire that."
Clark, a director of the League of Cities at both the state and national levels and a director of the National Municipal League, said he has the opportunity to influence state and federal law because of his positions on those boards.
Know What's Going On
"I'm active," said Clark. "Others choose not to be active. I could do zero, and spend nothing. . . . I've contended over the years that some of the most effective council members are those who know what's going on across the nation."
But Hall said she could not justify going to conferences.
"I think if I'm going to go to a conference, there should be a direct link between the job I'm doing and the conference. I do not see the link," she said.
The council has made a total of 84 trips since June, 1984. Of those, Wilson has made 18, Wallace Edgerton 13, Kell 9, Warren Harwood 11, Clark 10, Marc Wilder 5, Edd Tuttle 4, and Hall 1. Councilwoman Eunice Sato has made 13 trips, but nine of those were to the Bay Area or Sacramento for one-day meetings and required no overnight accommodations.
Regional Council Sessions
Wilson's trips this year include five to conferences associated with the National Assn. of Regional Councils, whose members specialize in regional planning for local governments. Wilson is a director of the Southern California Assn. of Governments.
He went to a regional meeting of the group in Reno in March, three national sessions in Boston, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., in May and June and a convention of the Texas Assn. of Regional Councils in Beaumont, Tex., last month.
Wilson said topics discussed at the conferences were probably similar, but that in Washington he was able to meet with congressmen, Pittsburgh was the group's annual conference, and in Texas he was able to learn from what he thinks is the best regional council in the country. He said he could not recall what was special about the Boston meeting.
'My District Is Tougher'