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The Region

$32 Lunch Tab? To Some, That's Hard to Swallow

O.C. councilwoman's critics question a third entree for what she swore to be a meal for two. Mystery guest was her husband, one says.

September 20, 2003|Dave McKibben | Times Staff Writer

In the big scheme of things, the request by a Mission Viejo council member for a $32 lunch-tab reimbursement might seem like small potatoes.

After all, the Lynwood City Council is being investigated by the Los Angeles district attorney's office for possible misuse of public funds involving tens of thousands of dollars of city credit card expenses.

In contrast, four Mission Viejo council members haven't submitted a single reimbursement request in the last three months, records show.

That's why Councilwoman Gail Reavis' request to be reimbursed $32.30 for an Aug. 5 lunch caught the attention of a council colleague.

On a city reimbursement form on which she swore the expense was related to city business, Reavis, 51, said her lunch guest was planning commissioner Bo Klein.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday September 23, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Council expense report -- An article in Saturday's California section about a Mission Viejo City Council member's expense report incorrectly reported that Mayor John Paul Ledesma wrote in an e-mail that the reimbursement request was debatable. He made the remark in an interview.

Knowing the restaurant and its lunch prices, Councilman William S. Craycraft, a regional sales manager for a paper products company, wondered whether taxpayers had in fact bought lunch for a third, unnamed person.

In a City Hall e-mail, Craycraft wrote, "$32.30 for lunch for two people is interesting, especially at a place where a nice sandwich runs about $7.50. Per chance did the taxpayers buy lunch for a third person?"

A copy of the itemized lunch bill, obtained by The Times, showed an order for three entrees and three iced teas.

"Why would you order another ice tea? Why wouldn't you just get a refill? From what I'm hearing, this sounds like fraud," said Craycraft in an interview.

Another council member, Patricia Kelley, said she was told by Klein that Reavis' husband, Rick, also attended their lunch.

"If indeed she did charge the city for three lunches and one of them was her husband's, that's a major red flag," Kelley, a piano teacher, said Friday.

Gail Reavis and Klein declined to comment on the apparent discrepancy.

While the amount of money in dispute is only about $10, Mayor John Paul Ledesma said he was concerned enough to pursue the matter.

"If the itemized bill is accurate, I'd be extremely disappointed," said Ledesma, a computer peripherals salesman. "That's a pretty serious error in judgment. I'm quite shocked actually that Gail would do something like that. Usually, she is very careful about money. More than anyone else on the council, she's conscious of keeping budget expenses down."

Ledesma said that after reviewing a copy of the itemized receipt, he will speak privately with Reavis, whom he counts as a council ally and part of his normal majority voting bloc.

Since she was elected in 2000, Reavis has consistently railed against the previous council majority for overspending on small and big-ticket items, such as the new $14-million City Hall.

The brouhaha over Reavis' lunch tab is the second time in recent weeks her meal expenses have been questioned.

Last month, City Manager Dan Joseph refused to reimburse Reavis for a $16 meal after attending a League of California Cities conference in Monterey.

The restaurant was about five minutes from Reavis' home, Joseph said. "I couldn't see that it was related to the conference," he said.

In an e-mail to Joseph, Reavis claimed that the dinner should have been paid for by the city: "How is it if you drive for nine hours and had your last meal at noon, that you are not allowed dinner seven hours later just because it is close to home."

After the dust-up, Reavis won council support to shift approval of expense-reimbursement requests from the city manager to the mayor.

In an e-mail to Joseph, the mayor said Reavis' $16 petty cash request was debatable.

"There's some gray area there, but that was not the most optimal thing to do," Ledesma said. "Some people would argue that she was already home. It's probably not something I would have done."

Ledesma and Reavis are members of the Committee for Integrity in Government, a 5-year-old citizens group that describes itself as an advocate of good government. In the 2000 election, many of the group's members campaigned for Reavis, who had worked as a purchasing manager for a mortgage firm. Reavis is also a member of a local Republican women's organization. Rick Reavis is a retired property management and development specialist.

Brad Morton, a local attorney who is chairman of the citizens group, said he didn't know the specifics of Reavis' $32 lunch tab. "Ten dollars seems rather trivial. But the council member should be reasonable and follow the city's policy on expenditures."

Councilman Lance MacLean said he was surprised by the timing of Reavis' meal tab. "It is unfortunate that the appearance of impropriety has surfaced after the council just shifted expenditure approval to the mayor," he said. "If this is true, I am disappointed by the lack of judgment and the wasteful spending of taxpayer money."

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