Last week we talked about how I believe District Attorney-elect Jason Anderson should investigate the credit card transactions and travel expenses of the Apple Valley Town Council. This is part two in the series.
League of Cities’ Junkets
Now, let’s talk about one of these useless junkets put on by the League of California Cities, an organization that essentially lobbies Sacramento on behalf of cities. The organization has received around $200,000 from Apple Valley in the form of memberships ($115,000) and conference registration fees ($70,000) since 2013.
Four council members attended their “Annual Conference” in Long Beach back in 2016. The conference was a three day and two-night affair beginning on a Wednesday morning and concluding around lunchtime on Friday.
What captured my attention about this trip was Barb Stanton’s hotel bill. It was more than $1,500 and that caused me to look deeper because I was so confused as to why her bill was so expensive since it was just a two-night conference. Moreover, the other three council members had hotel bills that were significantly lower.
Before we get into that, let’s revisit the Town council’s written policies on reimbursements. In the opening paragraph, it says that all reimbursable expenses must be “directly related to the conduct of Town business.” In the section on lodging, it goes on to say that all lodging expenses will be reimbursed if the official Town business “reasonably requires an overnight stay.” Finally, it states that “if such lodging is in connection with a conference, lodging expenses must not exceed the group rate published by the conference sponsor for the meeting if such rates are available at the time of booking.”
OK. So let’s summarize Town policy. In order to be reimbursed for hotel expenses, it must:
- be for official purposes,
- reasonably require an overnight stay, and
- not exceed the group discount rate.
More importantly, this policy is based on state law which states very clearly in Government Code 53232.2(d) that hotel stays must not exceed the group discount rate.
Stanton’s $1,500 Hotel Bill
Let’s examine Barb Stanton’s invoice first since it is the most egregious. First, she booked a hotel room for Friday night – after the conference ended. Why should you the taxpayers have to pay for that night?
Don’t forget. This is the same woman that gets her personal cellphone reimbursed by taxpayers and whined about how she works for free as a councilwoman so she deserves it.
Second, archived screenshots with information about the conference show that the group rates varied from $179 to $209 per night based on the hotel. And Stanton, who attends all of these conferences every year and registered for this conference months in advance, booked her room at $339 per night. I don’t know why she paid more.
The Rest of the Council
Art Bishop also paid the $339 rate. Thankfully, he only booked a room for three nights and checked out Friday morning. Curt Emick only stayed two nights. The bad news is that he paid a whopping $409 per night. Larry Cusack only stayed one night but boy did he make it count. His stay cost $439 a night and a total of $534 when you factored in taxes and valet parking.
Maybe you are thinking that they decided at the last minute to attend the conference and couldn’t get the group rate. Fair enough. Let’s take a look.
Barb Stanton’s credit card statement shows that she paid her $525 registration fee and got the early bird discount in June – nearly four months before the conference. Bishop and Cusack also paid their dues in June. Emick waited until the first half of July – but still plenty of time to book a room for less than half the price he ultimately paid.
Oh, and Scott Nassif paid the $525 registration fee — also in June — but he never attended the conference.
Still want to give them the benefit of the doubt? Well, all five attended the 2013, 2014 and 2015 conferences. And all of them, except for Emick, attended the 2017 conference as well. Simply put, this is one of those events that is put on the “can’t miss” calendar months in advance.
Investigation Needed, Reimbursements Demanded
I believe that the District Attorney needs to conduct a criminal investigation into these credit card charges and travel expenses because it appears at first glance that there are some improper and illegal transactions taking place.
I believe Barb Stanton should reimburse taxpayers for her Friday night hotel charge. Additionally, Stanton and the other three council members should reimburse taxpayers for the room charges that were in excess of the group discount rates posted. Finally, Nassif should reimburse taxpayers for registering for a conference that he did not attend — unless there was some sort of extenuating circumstance that the public is not aware of.
It is time to hold our council members accountable for their wasteful spending, put a cap on travel expenses and put an end to these useless junkets.
I will be preparing a complaint for the new District Attorney Andersen to review.
Source: Angela Valles, Apple Valley Review