It has been 18 years and 99 days since the city’s pledge to build the West Branch Library.
At the Glendale city council meeting of March 22, 2016 during Council Comments Sammy stated that he will request a review by council of its travel policy. And so the story of his questionable travel expenses lives on. If he thought announcing that he was requesting a review of the policy would put him on the right side of the issue he was wrong. Once someone in the public eye has committed a transgression it lives in the public eye forever. Sammy’s travel expenses are an election issue. They go to the character of the man and to his ability to make sound, ethical judgments.
Paul Giblin of the Arizona Republic has another story on Sammy’s travel out today, March 25, 2016. Here is the link: http://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/glendale/2016/03/24/glendale-councilman-sammy-chavira-seeks-review-travel-policy/82181492/ .
In Giblin’s story there are quotes from a recent Chavira email and City Attorney Michael Bailey’s email response on the issue. Chavira emailed City Attorney Michael Bailey and City Manager Kevin Phelps saying, “I would appreciate if you confirm that I followed all the rules and regulations regarding my travel expenditures. Additionally I would appreciate it if you would confirm that I submitted all my receipts and appropriate paperwork.” Note Sammy’s choice in wording. He used the word “confirm.” Hmm…it’s pretty obvious that Sammy is seeking someone, anyone to provide cover for his ethically challenged travel expenditures.
Mr. Giblin received Public Information Requests not only for Sammy’s email but for City Attorney Michael Bailey’s response. Now it gets interesting. Bailey noted that the council’s travel policy is lax as no prior approval is required by anyone and the councilmember has the responsibility to decide if an expense is reasonable. What appears reasonable to Sammy may not be reasonable to you or others.
Giblin quotes from Bailey’s email, “Noting the foregoing (council’s lax policy and the absence of any standard for reasonableness) and based upon the information I have been provided regarding travel expenditures, the information does not conclusively establish any unlawful expenditures or any expenditures in violation of council policy.” How is that for making sure Bailey has wiggle room? You have to especially like the use of the word “conclusively.”
Then there is the issue of lost receipts raised by Councilmember Turner. Council has no policy regarding how to handle them appropriately or to establish a cap on reimbursements made with no paperwork to confirm the amount being requested. Apparently Sammy was reimbursed for lost receipts as well.
It gets even better. Giblin asked former Fire Chief Mark Burdick, now a mayoral candidate, about the situation. Burdick’s answer? He thought Sammy used his personal credit card and had no idea that Sammy used the city’s credit card to pay for the infamous $420 dinner. Where is Burdick’s announcement that under those circumstances, he too, will reimburse the city personally? Where is Burdick’s statement on the propriety of a dinner that included one of his subordinate fire fighters, Glendale fire fighter Danny Valenzuela? According to Giblin, Burdick goes on to request a citizen’s ethics commission to oversee councilmembers’ expenses. That idea may be a bit of overkill as a remedy but hey, Burdick’s got to distinguish himself from the incumbent mayor somehow. This is as good a way as any.
In Giblin’s online Arizona Republic story there are graphs and charts comparing the travel expenditures of all of the councilmembers. Note that the two highest spenders are Sammy and recalled Councilmember Gary Sherwood. It appears that both fancied themselves as high rollers. They were buddies. They often went on the same trips. They voted together on many high profile city issues. Many citizens believe that they might have traded votes. The most notable being Sherwood’s flip-flop on the casino issue voting in favor and Sammy’s flip-flop on the $15 million a year arena management contract to IceArizona voting in favor. Each of these men voted in direct opposition to their campaign promises to their voters.
The ethical action for Sammy would be to reimburse the city for his problematical travel expenditures. He can’t do that although he should. If he were to reimburse the city that is tantamount to an admission of wrong doing. Sammy has no choice but to continue his mantra of I did nothing wrong. We’ve all heard many politicians say the same only to have them end up in jail.
The problem for Sammy is twofold. This issue is not going to go away before the Primary Election on August 30, 2016 and it forever defines his ethics and character for the voters of the Yucca district. They are angry and disgusted to learn Sammy wasted nearly $25,000 of their hard earned tax dollars.
Sammy has never addressed the primary purpose of his trips. To all appearances his primary purpose was to have fun in Washington, D. C. on your money. His perceived secondary purpose was to throw in some sort of brief meeting on a city related topic to provide him with just enough cover to be considered legal. The primary purpose and secondary purpose of a trip on taxpayer money is the distinction that many are missing. If the primary purpose is conclusively for city business that is legitimate. Perhaps secondary, unrelated to city business, portions of trips should be paid by the individual.
The voters of the Yucca district are angry. Glendale city councilmembers should be angry as well. They made appropriate and ethical decisions regarding the primary purpose of their travel. Unfortunately the ethically-tainted brush being used on Sammy will be used on them. Sammy’s apparent unethical decisions have now called into question their decisions.
Sammy’s questionable ethics is a story that is not going to go away although he may on Primary Election Day.
© Joyce Clark, 2016
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