City Council spending reveals increasing trend
All but two City Council members increased their spending this past fiscal year with most of their individual budgets, funded by taxpayer dollars, going toward travel and office supplies, according to detailed online expenditure reports.
Altogether, the nine-member Council spent about $72,760 from July 2006 to June 2007 -- an increase of $9,200 from the year before.
For the first time, Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz spent nearly all of his $12,000 allotment, making him the top spender, more than Councilman Rod Tam, who took the No. 1 spot the past two years.
In 2006, councilmembers were each given $9,920 to use for any business reasons they wanted, from copying paper to buying new furniture.
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi came in second, spending $11,942, with travel being her highest expenses for three conferences. Though Tam was third, he racked up 105 lunch meetings totaling $1,980. The biggest spending increase was by Council Chairwoman Barbara Marshall, who more than doubled her expenses compared with last year.
Councilmen Nestor Garcia and Charles Djou were the only two members to decrease their spending. Councilman Gary Okino spent the least at $1,301.
"I do think that how each councilperson budgets their expenses is representative of how they spend taxpayers' money," Djou said. "Not just with their individual budget, but with the city's $2.4 billion budget."
Starting this year, each councilmember will be given $17,000 in their allotment, which will include cell phones, vehicle and training fees that were funded through other accounts until now, Marshall said.
Councilmembers have about the same amount of money to spend, but there will be greater transparency since the expenses will be disclosed online.
"It's up to the councilmember to decide how to want to spend their allotment, keeping in mind that it's taxpayers' money," Marshall said.
Marshall's expenses included trips to Alaska and Maui for conferences and a filing cabinet to replace a broken one, totaling $523.
Dela Cruz, who created the policy of councilmembers posting their expenses online three years ago, said other government agencies should follow the City Council and make their spending information easily accessible as well.
"We're the ones going out of our way giving full disclosure," Dela Cruz said. "I think it's in the best interest of the public. We shouldn't be ashamed of anything."
Dela Cruz had $7 remaining at the end of June. He spent nearly $1,600 on a new leather couch and two chairs after moving offices. Besides traveling to several conferences this past year, he paid $1,184 in postage fees, mostly for postcards to encourage residents to participate in a recycling project.
Okino, on the other hand, paid just $187 in postage fees.
"That might not be a good sign because maybe I'm not reaching out to my constituents," he said. "That might be boosted up this year."
Tam, known for meeting constituents for coffee or at Zippy's Restaurant, said he prefers to stay out of the office and likes going into the community.
"That's my own style of keeping relationships," Tam said. "The money stays within the community. It's actually being spent on the taxpayers."