Citing Public Records Act to blur expenses

In reading Brian Joseph’s OC Watchdog article in today’s Register I am reminded of a similar stonewalling by elected or hired public officials in Mission Viejo.
The Register story is about profiteering in Sacramento real estate. In that case I agree with the actions taken. It is not the responsibility of the Senate to track members who own or rent a second home while their primary residence may be hundreds of miles away. This could be fixed by going to a part time legislature but that’s not the topic of this story.

The story I am about to share is a better illustration on the Register headline which reads: “Sometimes, even simple questions can be tricky.”

As a former CEO of a California Corporation we were told by our CPA that all tax deductible travel and entertainment expenses must include the names of all parties and a justification for that entertainment. That is the IRS mandate if you intend to take a deduction of those expenses on tax returns.

Having practiced that policy I questioned the former Mission Viejo City manager on a $924.05 dinner at 555 East Restaurant in Long Beach, which at the time was perhaps the most expensive restaurant in that city.

I made a Public Records request of the city managers Travel Request and Expense Reports with two simple questions.

1. A record of the attendees at the City dinner on Oct 3, 1998, in Long Beach, during the League of Cities meeting.

2. A document stating the purpose of the dinner mentioned above.

I received a reply on city letterhead from the Records Management Coordinator which reads: “The Public Records Act does obligate the city to provide documents that it has in its possession, that exists as part of the public record. However, if no such document exists, the City is not obligated to create one in response to a request.”

You see the city manager approves these expenses. It is rare that council members ever check this type of detail in the Check Registers that they approve after the fact.
Further, AB 1234 was not in effect at the time. Note: AB1234 addresses “ethics for public employees.”I am not even sure if an expenditure report is covered by that Bill.

That Juice readers is how they avoided exposure or any questions on this abuse of taxpayer funds. If this were a corporation, and I was an auditor, that expenditure would be denied.

So simply don’t keep records. You are not obligated to create a document if one doesn’t exist. Is that how we demonstrate honesty, integrity and transparency in government?

Juice readers. Check out your elected leaders and staff expenses at League of Cities meetings, or should I say junkets, in California as well as Washington, DC. Having conducted that research you might be surprised at what you will discover.

About Larry Gilbert