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Council approves event allowance

Council members will receive up to $450 a year to attend community events, despite protest from Taxpayers Assn.

February 08, 2012|By Barbara Diamond

City Council members will now receive up to $450 a year to pay for their attendance at events.

The council unanimously approved on Tuesday the allowance, which if used by all five council members would cost the city $2,250.

"City Council participation at community events is an important part of representing the community," said Councilman Kelly Boyd, who proposed the stipend. "Unfortunately, these events can become costly for council members, especially if they bring a guest to the event."

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In the past, council members periodically requested reimbursement for the cost of attending various events. However, that process is cumbersome and inefficient, Boyd said.

The Laguna Beach Taxpayers Assn. e-mailed the city clerk's office on Tuesday and said the board voted no on an agenda proposal to reimburse council members for attending specified events.

"We were under the impression that the $600-a-month stipend paid council members in addition to health insurance they receive as the board of the Laguna Beach County Water District was meant to cover their expenses," said Martha Lydick, association president. "The board voted 10 to 1 against the reimbursement for events specified on the council agenda."

The proposed events were:

The Chamber of Commerce Spirit Awards, $75

The Chamber Leadership Luncheon, $40

The Chamber State of the City Luncheon, $45

Laguna Beach Seniors Holiday Luncheon, $30

Seniors' Legacy Ball, $200

Laguna Beach Woman's Club event for the outgoing mayor, $35

Laguna Canyon Conservancy dinner, $15

Total: $440 each.

"Who picked them?" demanded Mary Dolphin. "This is not an appropriate use of city money."

Dolphin said the council is not paid to attend social events, and being "comped" is a gift that elected officials are not allowed to accept.

The proposed reimbursement was revised at the meeting to make the yearly total $450, and council members can attend events of their own choosing.

"It should be individual decisions," said Councilwoman Elizabeth Pearson.

She said the list of organizations that invite council members to events goes on and on, and attendance should be based on the council member's schedule, participation in the group and expertise.

"I think there should be some comping," resident Elsa Brizzi said.

Brizzi said council members should get their dinners free, and the groups should be glad they attended.

Funding for the allotment is expected to be covered by the council's travel and meeting budget and does not include guests. Arrangements will be handled by City Manager John Pietig.

Pietig said the council rarely spends it allotted travel and meeting budget and most likely the current budget will cover the cost of reimbursement without an additional appropriation.

"If money is not spent, it should be returned to the general fund," Lydick said. "There are better ways to spend the money when the city is in financial trouble."

coastlinepilot@latimes.com

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