Councilman Chavira seeks review of Glendale’s travel policy –

7 months ago Comments Off on Councilman Chavira seeks review of Glendale’s travel policy –

Columnist E.J. Montini and reporters Paul Giblin and Craig Harris talk about government officials expensing questionable trips to taxpayers and the lack of accountability in monitoring how they spend taxpayers’ money.

Glendale City Councilman Sammy Chavira, who has spent thousands of dollars in questionable travel expenses, is now calling for a review of the city’s travel policies.

Just before the conclusion of Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Chavira said he will formally request an appraisal during the council’s workshop meeting on April 5. His statement followed criticism in recent days by his six council colleagues and others.

Reading from a statement, Chavira said:

“There has been a lot of coverage in the media recently about elected officials, their travel in the city of Glendale, and specifically regarding my own travel. While I have always followed the travel policies of the city, I am also completely supportive of reviewing the council’s policies and guidelines.”

Chavira said he expects a review will prompt public discussion about changes to strengthen the policy.

The Arizona Republic reported on March 4 that since Chavira took office in 2013, he has billed taxpayers $24,307 for 13 out-of-state trips, including trips that have raised questions about whether they were for “clear business needs,” as required by city policy.

Chavira’s expenses included $2,075 for a trip to Washington, D.C., to see his friend Ruben Gallego sworn into the U.S. House of Representatives; $1,933 for another trip to Washington to see Pope Francis; and a combined $1,033 for two trips to the Los Angeles area for economic-development purposes, though documentation of those ventures is vague.

Chavira himself sought confirmation about whether he had followed city policy.

In an email on March 10 to the city manager and city attorney, Chavira stated:

“I would appreciate if you would 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.”

The city attorney, Michael Bailey, noted the lax standards of the council’s travel policy in an email to the city manager, Kevin Phelps, the following day.

Bailey said that no prior approval is required for elected officials to travel and that elected officials themselves are responsible for determining what expenses are reasonable.

“Noting the foregoing 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 the council policy,” Bailey wrote in the email, which The Republic obtained through a public records request.

Chavira also spent $3,136 in fees for flight changes, seat upgrades and baggage fees, according to his expense reports.

During another Washington trip, Chavira expensed a $420 seafood dinner for five Phoenix officials and other guests at Johnny’s Half Shell, a seafood restaurant that was named one of America’s best restaurants by Gourmet magazine.

Chavira, a Glendale resident, works as a Phoenix firefighter. His dinner party included Phoenix Fire Chief Kara Kalkbrenner and Assistant Chief Scott Krushak, plus Kalkbrenner’s husband, Phoenix Director of Homeland Security and Emergency Management Kevin Kalkbrenner.

Phoenix Fire Deputy Chief Shelly Jamison had said Kara Kalkbrenner felt there were no improprieties in allowing a subordinate to pick up the bill, but after the original report on Chavira’s expenses, including the dinner, was published, all five Phoenix officials reimbursed Glendale$60 each, for a total of $300.

Glendale Fire Chief Mark Burdick, who since has retired and announced his candidacy in the Glendale mayoral race, also attended the meal. He told The Republic that he thought Chavira planned to pay for the meal personally.

“I’m being very honest and I’m telling you the truth: I didn’t realize he put it on his ‘pro card,'” Burdick said, referring to the nickname for a city-issued credit card.

Burdick noted that disclosures about Chavira’s travel expenses followed an investigation by The Republic last year focusing on Valley Metro Chief Executive Officer Stephen Banta.

Part of that reporting showed that Valley Metro paid $18,834 for Banta to take Glendale officials to Portland, Ore., to examine that city’s light-rail system in September. The two-day trip with Glendale’s mayor, City Council members and staff included a nearly $4,700 dinner at El Gaucho restaurant, which boasts shimmering candlelight and live flamenco guitar music nightly.

Glendale, like other metro Phoenix cities, contributes thousands of dollars annually to Valley Metro’s budget. Glendale officials currently are considering whether to expand Valley Metro’s light-rail system into the West Valley city.

“We have these continued negative news stories,” Burdick said. “We could tighten policies now and we’d still have trust issues.”

The retired fire chief urged Glendale council members to create a broad-based and independent ethics commission to oversee council members’ expenses. He said such a commission could consist of business executives, faith leaders, retired judges and other volunteers.

Burdick said he would  push for creation of an ethics commission if he’s elected as mayor but hopes the current council members will do it before the fall elections.

Former Glendale Councilwoman Joyce Clark, who has announced her plan to run against Chavira in an election this year, criticized Chavira’s comments during Tuesday’s council meeting and in an online post.

“He said he always followed the travel policy of the city. He failed to mention that in relation to elected officials,  whatever policy does exist is non-existent or very weak,” Clark wrote in her blog, Joyce Clark Unfiltered. “We would not expect him to acknowledge that he gamed the system.”

During the meeting, former Glendale municipal employee Bill Demski called out Chavira for piling up travel expenses even while the council was increasing residents’ property taxes and sales taxes.

“What a total, immoral disgrace,” Demski said.

None of the other council members addressed the travel policy during Tuesday’s meeting.

Councilman Chavira seeks review of Glendale’s travel policy –

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