LONG BEACH — The city auditor has criticized the city-owned Long Beach Transit bus company for "excessive" business travel by its officials, and recommended that its out-of-town trips be "sharply reduced."
Earl Hobbs, who conducted the audit, said that in 1983-84, bus company officials spent $52,825 on travel and meal expenses. In 1984-85, they spent more than $81,000, and exceeded their travel budget of about $66,000 by 20%, Hobbs said.
"Sixteen different employees and all seven board members traveled by air during the last year, and the General Manager took at least 18 trips," the audit report said.
The operational audit, which covered the year ending June 30, 1985, also questioned the wisdom of spending $75,000 on billboard and newspaper advertising that urged readers to "catch the warmth," "flavor," "thrill," "glow," "style," "spirit," or "heart" of Long Beach, but did not directly address the needs of riders.
Despite the criticisms, Robert E. Fronke, city auditor, praised the company for "good management and leadership" in the audit report. In an interview, Fronke said the bus company has "a 15- or 20-year history of problems," many of which have been corrected under the present administration. "In past years, we had much bigger fish to fry," he said.
The audit report was presented to the City Council, which forwarded it to the seven-member Long Beach Transit board of directors. The transit board has full authority over the bus company's $20-million annual operating budget. Board members, who reviewed the report at their February meeting, asked a few questions but did not indicate they were concerned about the criticisms.
Board Chairman Shirley Saltman said in a telephone interview that she sees "no reason for concern at all."
"We have a fiscally very responsible management and they just don't go off half-cocked. In my six years on the board, I have seen only legitimate expense and legitimate travel," she said.
Laurence W. Jackson, president and general manager of Long Beach Transit, defended the 18-month-old campaign on similar grounds, and called it "the most positive that we have ever done in terms of reaction from the riding and non-riding public."
Jackson said members of the marketing committee of the board of directors will review their advertising strategy when they discuss next year's marketing program. Other transportation company officials noted that this particular campaign may end in a few weeks anyway, and be replaced by one aimed at people who have stopped riding buses since fares increased last July.
In a written reply that is part of the audit report, Jackson attributed the many out-of-town trips to "an extraordinary year with fierce battles being waged at both the federal and state level concerning the continuation of subsidies for mass transit." He predicted "a significant overall reduction in travel and meetings cost" in fiscal year 1986.
In an interview, Jackson said the reduction in travel will result because the American Public Transit Assn. convention was held in Los Angeles this year. Last year, six members of the board of directors flew to Washington to attend the conference.
Fronke said he hoped the board would "become a little more circumspect in their handling of out-of-town travel."