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Council Could Seek to Squirrel Away Travel Funds

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By Jorge Casuso

June 26, 2023 -- The City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to re-appropriate travel funds its members haven't spent "to supplement existing Council Discretionary funds" in the upcoming fiscal year.

City staff is expected to determine next week how much of the nearly $60,000 annual Council travel budget has not been spent and could be transferred under the item placed on the agenda by Councilmember Gleam Davis.

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"Councilmembers receive a travel budget allocation based on the number of months they serve during the fiscal year," said City spokesperson Tati Simonian.

Councilmembers Davis and Councilmembers Lana Negrete, Phil Brock, Christine Parra and Oscar de la Torre -- who are serving the full 12 months -- can each spend $8,331, Simonian said.

The travel budget for Councilmembers Caroline Torosis and Jesse Zwick -- who were elected in November and assumed office the following month -- is $4,860.

"Staff is still tabulating Councilmember travel spending for FY 2022-23 as final expense reports are submitted and processed," Simonian said.

The final figures should be available shortly after the end of the fiscal year on June 30, she said.

If recent spending patterns are any indication, Council members use about half the budget that allows them to travel at taxpayers' expense ("Santa Monica Council Members Took 49 Official Trips in Past Two Years," December 3, 2019).

In Fiscal Year 2017-18 and 2018-19 -- before the coronavirus shutdown curbed travel -- Council members took a total of 49 official trips, an average of about two per month, that cost nearly $60,000, according to travel expense records provided by the City.

Among the destinations were Vancouver, British Columbia; Montreal, Canada and Bonn, Germany.

Former Councilmember Kevin McKeown was the most prolific traveler, taking nine trips totaling $13,613.76 in expenses, while Davis took the most expensive -- a $3,384.53 trip to attend the Climate Mayors and the United States Conference of Mayors (USCM) Summer Meeting in Honolulu.

According to the records, former Councilmember Sue Himmelrich didn't charge for travel expenses incurred on behalf of the City.

There is no limit to the number of trips a Council member can take as long as the total expenses don't exceed the budget cap, according to staff.

Council members can attend conferences or meetings for organizations the City belongs to without requiring approval from the Council or City Manager.

If the City is not a member of the organization, a Council vote is required.

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