PLEASE CHECK OUT THE THREE CHAVIRA VIDEOS TO THE LEFT OF THIS COLUMN. EACH IS ABOUT A MINUTE AND A HALF IN LENGTH.
It has been 18 years and 185 days since the city’s pledge to build the West Branch Library.
Glendale city council travel policy…It certainly was an interesting topic that had been requested by Councilmember Chavira after he got caught with his hand in the cookie jar. Ironically, Chavira, after having made the request for discussion, had not one substantive suggestion or comment to make. He remained largely silent as councilmembers opined and only said he thanked staff for their work on the issue and wanted Glendale, “to set the standard in travel.” That was it. That was Sammy’s entire contribution to the discussion. If you would like to view the complete council discussion, use this link:
City Manager Phelps introduced the item with an apology explaining that the staff work on the issue was lacking. Councilmember Aldama was visibly upset. Why, you ask? He wanted to provide input to staff prior to bringing the issue to workshop and did not have that opportunity. Later in the discussion he suggested a citizen’s Ad Hoc Committee to draft council’s travel policy. The idea went over like a lead balloon with the rest of council literally ignoring his suggestion. He did offer one interesting statement saying “he has never misspent” taxpayer money. Yet some Glendale residents are curious as to why he gave thousands of dollars to the Glendale Women’s Club with the understanding that they would pass it on in support of yet another Glendale festival. Hmmm….
Paul Giblin of the Arizona Republic had a story online on the evening of June 21, 2016, several hours after the city council workshop. Here is the link:
http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/glendale/2016/06/20/glendale-consider-tougher-taxpayer-funded-travel-rules/86152722/ . In his story Giblin says, “The newspaper (Arizona Republic) reported on March 4 that Chavira expensed $2,075 to see his friend Ruben Gallego sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington, and $1,933 to watch Pope Francis address Congress in Washington (on a large screen TV for overflow crowd).
“The Republic also reported that the first-term councilman billed taxpayers a combined $1,033 for poorly documented business-development trips to the Los Angeles area, and a combined $3,136 for airline ticket change fees, seat upgrades and baggage charges since taking office in January 2013.”
The council word “du jour” was “transparency” begun by Councilmember Malnar and repeated continually by the rest of council. It is a word so over used by politicians as to lose all meaning. What Glendale taxpayers expect and deserve is full disclosure that leads to accountability when it comes to spending taxpayer dollars. Several interesting comments were made by various councilmembers.
Councilmember Tolmachoff spent the better part of five minutes explaining the importance of councilmember travel. For a moment I thought I was back in school. Her rationale centered on the building of relationships that would further Glendale’s agenda as well as the personal development gained through travel. I would suggest that both of those arguments are debatable. She indicated that she wanted staff to develop a method of posting her spending of taxpayer money online. This is not a new or original idea. This is a concept that I have publicly advocated for as part of my campaign platform for four months, ever since I announced my candidacy to replace Chavira.
Councilmember Turner, after a vigorous defense of staff’s work on the issue, proceeded to offer a litany of specific changes that he wanted. They ranged from provision of itemized documentation; the use of pre and post travel reports; justification for reimbursement of travel change fees; alerting the City Manager of planned travel; and CFO approval of travel expenses. Generally there was council consensus on the rejection of the use of per diem by councilmembers and the desire to post councilmember travel reports online in order to provide greater transparency (there’s that word again). Assistant City Manager Duensing summarized the discussion by stating that staff would be back at a future date with recommendations to increase council “transparency.”
Three recent opinion pieces clearly offer the reasons as to why the need for Glendale city council travel policy review was required. The first is a Letter to the Editor by Ron Myers, constable of the Arrowhead Justice Precinct in Glendale offered on March 10, 2016:
“As an elected public official in Maricopa County who lives in Glendale, I am appalled and dismayed to read a story in The Republic that Glendale City Councilman Chavira has abused the trust of the taxpayers in Glendale by spending lavishly on questionable trips and meals charged to his expense account that we all pay for.
“What possible city business could it be for him to fly to Washington, D.C., to observe the Pope’s speech on a TV monitor or to watch his friend get sworn in as a congressman? Does he really think he can justify spending over $400 on dinner for his superiors in the Phoenix Fire Department while out of town?
“The City of Glendale takes one more black eye from out-of-control politicians. Shame on him and shame on the City of Glendale for allowing this fraud and abuse.”
Another is an opinion piece by Laurie Roberts of the Arizona Republic on March 25, 2010. She said:
“Glendale’s travelin’ man, Councilman Sammy Chavira, is asking for a review of the city’s travel policy. Apparently, it’s not clear to him that taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the $2,000 tab for him to travel to Washington, D.C. to see his pal, Rueben Gallego, sworn into Congress. Apparently, he believes it was a legitimate taxpayer expense to fly him to the nation’s Capital so that he could watch Pope Francis address Congress. Clearly, Glendale citizens needed to spend $420 for a posh seafood dinner party at a celebrated restaurant in Washington, D.C. Giblin reports that Chavira’s 2014 dinner party included several Phoenix officials, including two of Chavira’s bosses. Chavira is a Phoenix fire fighter.
“Yeah, I can see where there would be a clear need for Glendale taxpayers to foot that bill.
“Chavira said this week that recent medial reports (read: Giblin’s excellent dogging of this story) have led him to believe the city needs to review its policy. ‘While I have always followed the travel policies of the city, I am also completely supportive of reviewing the council’s policies and guidelines,’ he told his colleagues. The policy allows elected officials to decide what is and is not reasonable. Essentially it relies upon the city to elect ethical and honest leaders who don’t look to lax policies as an excuse to rack up frequent flier miles at the public’s expense.
“Given that that isn’t working in Glendale, perhaps it is time for the council to review travel. Or maybe it’s time for the citizens to review who they are putting on council.”
The third piece is a short video conversation by Columnist E.J. Montini and reporters Paul Giblin and Craig Harris as they talk about government officials expensing questionable trips to taxpayers and the lack of accountability in monitoring how they spend taxpayers’ money. Here is the link: http://azc.cc/1p4sVnQ .
Laurie Roberts had it right when she said, “…it’s time for the citizens to review who they are putting on the council.” It’s time to remove Sammy Chavira from city council.
© Joyce Clark, 2016
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