AZUSA — The City Council, seething over the alleged misuse of public funds, will ask the county district attorney's office to investigate trips taken by all council members to see whether there was any wrongdoing.
At a special meeting Thursday night, the council voted to ask the district attorney's office to look into the "allegations, rumors and lies" that one councilman said were running rampant in the city. The request was made after the council met in closed session for about an hour.
Acting City Atty. Leland C. Dolley said he would forward the request to the district attorney immediately and press for a response.
'Overrun With Rumors'
Council members, who traded accusations of impropriety, said after the vote that they hoped the investigation would end the debate.
"Once again, this city is overrun with rumors," Councilman Harry L. Stemrich said. "I'm tired of all the rumors. I'm tired of all the stuff. . . . We'll send it out to the district attorney and put an end to it."
Councilman Tony D. Naranjo asked for the investigation to cover all trips taken by council members over the past four months, roughly the time after the April election, which brought Stemrich and Naranjo to the council and reelected Mayor Eugene F. Moses to his fourth term.
Naranjo's motion was supported by Stemrich and Councilwoman Jennie Avila and opposed by Councilman Bruce Latta. Latta is the only council member who has not taken part in a city-sponsored trip since the election.
Moses, the target of many of the allegations, abstained. He said he did so to protest Stemrich's and Naranjo's implication that he was at fault.
'Put Me on the Carpet'
"I just wanted to show that they put me on the carpet," he said. "I don't think they're going to find much of anything."
But Moses agreed an investigation would clear the air on the city's policy on travel expenses.
"The city policy was never adopted and it needs some work," he said.
Before the vote, Moses argued that the investigation should also include members of the city staff, but Naranjo said recent allegations concern only the council members.
The uproar was primarily triggered by an unauthorized side trip that Moses took to Lee Vining in May while en route to a League of California Cities meeting in San Francisco. He was to meet the rest of Azusa's delegation, which included Naranjo, Stemrich, Avila and City Administrator Julio Fuentes in San Francisco.
Moses acknowledged making a detour to the remote Mono County community, but said his stay was necessary after his car broke down. Moses traveled with Art Morales, an Azusa activist, and the pair drove Highway 395 along the state's eastern border and hung signs for unsuccessful state Senate candidate Eugene Osko.
Stemrich and Naranjo dispute Moses' claims of car trouble, which they say was not apparent upon Moses' arrival in San Francisco, and contend the Lee Vining stop would not have been necessary had Moses driven directly to San Francisco.
The Lee Vining side trip cost the city $47.70 for lodging of Moses and Morales. Moses also received a $24 meal allowance for the day.
"I believe the Lee Vining trip was illegal," Naranjo said.
Moses contends he did nothing wrong.
He said that despite the detour he was in San Francisco in plenty of time for the league meeting. Stemrich claimed Moses missed an important orientation.
"As we were coming out of the first day of the convention, the mayor comes pulling in," Naranjo said. "He missed the first day because he was out campaigning for someone else."
In defending the Lee Vining stop, Moses countered that he spent less on the whole trip than the three other council members and Fuentes. Moses also argued that he paid for a number of city-related expenses out of his pocket, and the overnight stay paid by the city was balanced by that.
Total Weekend Spending
According to City Finance Director Geoff Craig, Moses spent a total of $791.20 on the weekend; Naranjo spent $864.30; Avila spent $927.28; Stemrich $904.28, and Fuentes spent $867.48.
The mayor said the others stayed at an expensive motel, adding unnecessary burden to the city budget. Moses stayed at the TraveLodge at the airport, where the daily rate was $55.10. The others stayed at the Airport Hilton, at a rate of $77.76.
Before Thursday's meeting, Moses accused the other city officials of hiding further expenses on city credit cards, which are not calculated into the final total. Craig said all expenses were included.
In defending himself, Moses has accused his colleagues of wasting money and violating city spending guidelines on lodging.
He said the Hilton's daily rate exceeded the $75 cutoff on overnight lodging set by council policy. Moreover, he charges, the city delegation arrived on May 10, the day before the conference started. "They wasted a whole day up there on taxpayer's money," he said.