Last week I said it was time for new San Bernardino County District Attorney Jason Anderson to investigate the Apple Valley Town Council and examine their credit card purchases and travel expenses. This is the first in a series of columns examining what I believe are criminal and/or unethical acts by members of the council.
Let’s start with California’s Government Code 53232.2(b) which states the following:
“If a local agency reimburses members of a legislative body for actual and necessary expenses incurred in the performance of official duties, then the governing body shall adopt a written policy … specifying the types of occurrences that qualify a member of the legislative body to receive reimbursement of expenses relating to travel, meals, lodging, and other actual and necessary expenses.”
In plain English – the town is required to have a written policy that lays out the rules when it comes to what expenses a member of the Council may submit for reimbursement. The good news is that Apple Valley does, in fact, have a written policy.
Earlier this year I discovered that Apple Valley Councilman Art Bishop had used his town credit card to buy a plane ticket for his wife so that she could join him on a useless junket.
It appears that Bishop isn’t the only Councilmember using the town credit card to buy airline tickets for other women. Back in March of 2013, Councilman Scott Nassif purchased a $204 ticket on a U.S. Airways flight for his wife, Susan. But wait, there’s more.
Councilman Larry Cusack also got into the act and purchased an airline ticket for a female companion. In fact, he purchased two tickets for two separate trips using the town credit card.
The first trip was an $800 getaway to Washington, D.C. in March 2014. The second trip was a flight to Sacramento with a departure date of Jan. 13, 2015. Now, they all claim that they reimbursed the town for these expenses.
Well, reimbursements don’t “fix” the problem because there is no basis or authority for using a government credit card for personal transactions.
California Attorney General Dan Lungren issued an official opinion on spousal reimbursements (No. 91-720) back in 1992 that found that paying a spouse’s expenses to a conference violates both Government Code section 1090 and constitutional prohibitions against gifts of public funds. It is pretty clear and logical that if a spouse’s expenses are not reimbursable then there is no basis to make the charge in the first place even if the Town’s reimbursement policy explicitly allowed council members to purchase airline tickets for spouses (it doesn’t).
Still not convinced? The California Appeals Court in People v. Bishop (2000) concluded that reimbursement was not a defense.
If you want to disagree with my interpretation on this, then you still run into the issue of impermissible loans via the usage of the credit card. When you use a government credit card for a personal transaction, the town has effectively floated or loaned you the money.
The Institute for Local Government wrote: “If an agency issues credit cards to individuals, the safest practice is never to allow the card to be used for personal purchases.” Hey, we are all adults here. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that you should never use a government credit card for personal transactions.
It is quite clear that state law was broken and that this matter should be investigated by the San Bernardino County Public Integrity Unit. I am not suggesting that these three Council members should get a jail sentence for this, but since common sense isn’t so common, perhaps, a little slap on the wrist with a fine will serve notice to the rest of the elected officials in San Bernardino County.
By now you all know that I discovered that town has been paying for Barb Stanton’s personal cell phone bill going back to 2011 — to the tune of $10,000. Her bill … ahem … I mean the taxpayers’ bill, is about $120 a month. Here is what the reimbursement policy says: “[C]ellular charges shall be kept to a minimum and shall be reimbursed for town business purposes only.”
We all know that in this day and age where cellphone plans have unlimited calls and texts that there is really no reason for Barb to be asking you, the reader, to pay for her cell phone bill. Even if you wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt and argue that she uses her phone for some town business and deserves some reimbursement, you can’t reasonably argue that we should foot the bill for the entire cost.
If we’re paying for her entire cell phone bill then it seems only reasonable to conclude that we deserve to have copies of her detailed billing statements outlining the calls she makes, to what numbers, and transcripts or copies of all her text messages, right? I mean, we paid for it.
I believe Stanton should reimburse you, the taxpayer, for at least half of her cell phone bill that we have been paying.
Part 2 …
Stay tuned. Next week we will take a more detailed look at Stanton’s $1,500 hotel bill for a two-night/three-day conference she attended in Long Beach back in 2016 and why I believe it may warrant a criminal prosecution.
Source: Angela Valles, Apple Valley Review