NORWALK — Rejecting the advice of the city attorney, Norwalk city councilmen have decided to continue using public money to pay for spouses who travel with them to conferences and seminars.
During a budget session last week, the council agreed to continue paying the travel expenses of council spouses. Just one of the five council members, Grace F. Napolitano, voted against the accord.
The council approved a $55-million budget for the 1990-91 fiscal year, including $39,000 for travel.
Earlier this year, the council asked City Atty. Steven L. Dorsey to review the city's unwritten policy of paying spousal expenses. In an April 24 memo to the council, Dorsey said: "It is my opinion that the city may not properly pay for these costs."
Dorsey said state law allows council members to be reimbursed only for expenses incurred while performing their duties.
Dorsey said, however, that in some cases the city could pay for the travel and meals of spouses if it could be determined that the spouse's attendance was of promotional value to the city.
Dorsey also said travel expenses could be paid from public money, if it could be determined that having the spouse attend the meeting would benefit the city.
Mayor Luigi Vernola said the city does benefit from spouses' traveling with council members.
He said his wife has traveled with him just a couple of times, and when she does, "she's not sitting around the pool having a party. She is politicking. Making phone calls. My wife is involved.
"This is a team effort. When you (the voter) elected me, you elected my whole family," Vernola added.
Napolitano said she disagrees: "The citizens do not elect our spouses. If my husband wants to go with me, he'll pay for his fare." Napolitano said she does not believe that other cities pay for travel expenses, so Norwalk should not.
Contacted by The Times, spokesmen for Cerritos, Downey, Lakewood, Long Beach, Montebello and South Gate said those cities do not pay travel expenses for spouses.
Meanwhile, the Norwalk City Council has requested that its administrative staff determine how much money the city spent on spousal travel expenses for fiscal 1989-90.
It will take about a week to go through travel vouchers and other documents to make such a determination, Assistant City Manager Sanford M. Groves said.
The council's travel budget for last year was $37,550.
Councilman Robert E. White said Norwalk started paying for spouses four or five years ago. He said during that time council members have not abused the policy.
"I don't think we overdo it," said White, who has been on the council for 23 years. "My wife has not been with me that much."