HERMOSA BEACH — City Councilman Gary Brutsch this week asked a local travel agency to provide him with a list of expenses from official city visits to Hermosa Beach's sister city during 1983, 1984 and 1985.
Brutsch made the request in a letter to Chuck Murphy, director of Beach Travel Inc. on Pier Avenue, as part of an inquiry he has begun into the way Councilman George Barks handled arrangements for the city's annual visit to Loreto, Mexico. Brutsch said he has also requested information about the trips from the city's finance department.
Barks, the City Council's official delegate to the sister city, made hotel and travel arrangements for each of the three years. He purchased plane tickets for the trips from Beach Travel.
Brutsch said he decided to look into Barks' handling of the trips after Barks acknowledged last month that he collected an average of $10 per person for each of the three trips to cover the costs of arranging them. Barks said he did nothing wrong, but Brutsch criticized him for not making it clear to trip-goers that they were paying him to organize the visit.
"There are so many rumors going around town about expenses paid and not paid, that I think it is time somebody come up with the facts," Brutsch said. "A lot of folks work hard to make sure the sister-city program works well. I don't want the folks next year to feel they shouldn't go on the trip because of problems we had this year."
Barks said Wednesday that he is compiling records so he can answer questions from Brutsch and others at next Tuesday's City Council meeting. He denied that he earned money from the trips beyond what he charged for arrangement costs.
"I have nothing to hide," Barks said. "All the information about the trips will be made available. There will be no doubt in anybody's mind that Councilman Barks has not financially benefited from the sister-city visits."
Barks, who has been organizing trips to Loreto since 1980, said he did not charge participants an arrangement fee during the first three years. He said, however, that by 1983 he could no longer afford to arrange the trips without some compensation.
Barks said he probably will not arrange any more trips to Loreto. He said he was advised Tuesday during a meeting with City Atty. James Lough and City Manager Gregory Meyer that it might be best for his political future and the integrity of the sister-city program if he left the arrangements to someone else.
"There is nothing that I have done that is improper or illegal, but it is obvious that there are people out there who are questioning my integrity and honesty in this whole thing," said Barks, who is seeking reelection to a fourth term in April. "At this point I don't think I would do it again unless I was asked to do it."
Murphy of Beach Travel said the agency had nothing to do with the trips aside from ordering the plane tickets. He said he will provide the information to Brutsch on Friday. Brutsch said he intends to take that information and compare it with city records and Barks' records.
In order to head off criticism that he made money from the city by arranging the trips, Barks returned $70 to the city on Dec. 23 to cover the "arrangement costs" he charged for officials--including himself--who went on the trips at city expense.