Luna takes funded trips without council permission

Mickie Solorio Luna

Councilwoman Mickie Luna has traveled on the taxpayers’ dime during her first year in office without permission from her colleagues, according to records obtained by the Free Lance and interviews with officials.
Luna spent two days in the La Jolla area of San Diego in early December for a municipal finance conference put on by the League of California Cities. The city paid $950 in total for the registration and lodging, but Luna said she drove down at her own cost.
That trip included $575 in lodging and $375 for registration, according to records.
She also took a March trip to a water conference in Palm Springs put on by a Latino-advocacy organization. The city paid $246.07 on her Calcard toward the Wells Water Conference on March 5-6 for one night at a hotel, at $177.77, and gas for $68.30. Luna has said she paid for meals and stayed with family a second night.
She and Councilman Karson Klauer also attended a relatively routine introductory conference for new council members in Sacramento at the start of the year. Those numbers were not immediately available, as the records request covered travel costs from just July 1 through Dec. 14 of this year, a time frame during which the city spent a total of $56,288 on travel costs.
Other council members, meanwhile, had not been aware of her city-funded trips until after the fact and never officially approved them. When asked about getting approval, Luna contended two city staff members knew—City Manager Bill Avera and Assistant City Clerk Christine Black—before she went.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “People knew that I was going. Bill Avera knew and Christine made the reservation.”
She noted that the council as a whole has a budget for attending meetings, but acknowledged she didn’t get her council colleagues’ OK to go.
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Councilman Victor Gomez each had reservations about Luna making such reservations without their approval.
Velazquez suggested that the city examine a process for approval on all overnight trips in and out of state. Councilman Victor Gomez had a similar approach to the issue.
Gomez said the city should have policies on travel, “especially when it comes to the city council.” He said with staff, the council approves a budget for each department that includes travel and training.
He said he supports looking at a similar process as in San Jose where council members must go before the full council for travel approval—outside of the main League of California Cities event, which was held in San Jose in September this year.
Luna in responding to Free Lance questions on her travel actually pointed out how other members attended that San Jose conference. Records show that Councilman Ray Friend attended the September conference in San Jose and was reimbursed $179.76 from the city, with $108.10 of that for mileage.
She also stressed how when she takes such trips, she comes back with information that she shares locally. After the water conference, she said she informed residents on what she learned.
“I came back and informed the Latino community” on ways to be more efficient and save water.
After the La Jolla conference, Luna returned to the council dais earlier this month and gave a brief report to council members on her trip. At that Dec. 7 meeting, she told officials there had been “very interesting” discussions at the conference on sales tax reform, public employee retirement reform and revenue measures for 2016 ballots. She said more than 200 people attended and that she brought back information to share, but did not go into specifics gained from the gathering at the council meeting.
When asked in a phone interview with the Free Lance about details learned at the event, Luna said it was about finances and asked to get her brochure from the event. She then listed off how it was about tax reform and public employee retirement reform. She also acknowledged that most of the attendees at the conference were full-time staff members—such as finance directors and appointed treasurers—working for cities throughout the state.
She said she plans to offer more information to city officials on the La Jolla conference.
“I have very open communication with people—I’m very upfront with people,” she said. “I’m doing my duties and responsibilities by bringing forth information.”
She said she doesn’t take the trips for personal gain and said she has enough to deal with as a council member at home.
“I don’t do it for travel,” she said. “I have enough things to do at home.”
Still, Velazquez for one said council members should should not only restrict themselves to trips that “show an obvious benefit” to the city, but also come back “before the council and explain why and how it benefits the city.”
Look back for a story breaking down the city’s $56,288 in travel costs since July.

Leave your comments