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Staying Within Budget

October 16, 1987

Certain Los Angeles City Council members ought to take their lead from Ernani Bernardi, a real penny pincher when it comes to city money.

As Times staff writers Victor Merina and Richard Simon reported Tuesday, based on a review of fiscal documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, several members of council are spending beyond their generous budgets, then quietly raiding the budgets of city departments, where a councilman's wish is often interpreted as a command.

The Council spent the $11.6 million budgeted for salaries and expenses last year and then another $680,000 with no questions asked, no public reporting required. The Council ought to face the same tight budget controls and the same audits that regulate non-elected city officials. They should also be required to disclose what they spend in one, easy-to-follow and detailed summary of council expenses.

No one is accusing the Council of thievery, but Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores believes a system that allows members to hide their extra expenses is dishonest. She is correct. The deception and the budget-busting must end.

Bernardi, the guy who brown bags his lunch, however, is no budget-buster. He gets by with 12 employees; Robert Farrell depends on 21. Bernardi drives a Ford with standard equipment; Farrell drives an old Buick; Nate Holden drives a fancier Buick equipped with a four-note horn, a fancy stereo system and a moon roof at city expense.

Bernardi had his office repainted and recarpeted six years ago, standard issue, nothing fancy; Zev Yaroslavsky had his office remodeled last year at more than twice the original $130,700 estimate, a bill he found "shocking." Taxpayers probably would agree.

Bernardi also dips regularly into his office funds to pay for police overtime. He is spending $70,000 to pay for an anti-narcotics task force in his northeast Valley district; Gloria Molina is spending $100,000 on police overtime in her district. Those priorities are worth duplicating; public safety warrants that kind of commitment.

Members of the Los Angeles City Council deserve the perks and privileges of office, but within their budgets. And they ought to spend as carefully as their thriftiest colleague, Ernani Bernardi.

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