Hollister City Council members are at odds again as an investigation was launched to determine if one member’s trip across the country was authorized.
Hollister Council member Honor Spencer said during the June 15 meeting that she attended the National League of Cities conference in Washington D.C., which she said was approved by the city council.
Spencer, who is also the council’s pro tem mayor, said that Mayor Ignacio Velazquez and Council member Rolan Resindez both claimed that she went on a trip for personal reasons. She said that she was also accused for going over her allotted budget for the year.
“I find it very disturbing that the person who calls himself mayor and his friend, Councilman Resindez, have the audacity to say that I went there to play with friends,” she said. “I went there to learn. I went over my budget, I am truly sorry. It was not intentional.”
Spencer said that Velazquez and Resendiz were angry at the fact that they were not informed of her trip. She said that Resendiz ordered staff to itemize the details of her expenditures.
However, Spencer claims that Resendiz acknowledged that she went on a trip and came back to talk about the trip in the informational report, which was March 16.
“As your elected official, it is my duty to talk to our state and federal reps to inform them of our needs for our community,” she said.
Resendiz said during last week’s meeting that Spencer reported the trip at the annual city council budget meeting. He said that she reported she went over her budget by more than $500.
Resendiz said he asked for a detailed itemized report and that it showed the hotel expenses, which amounted to $1,700, were still pending.
“The councilman claimed that she paid $500 payment overage but that seems not to be the case,” he said.
The City Council Protocol document has guidelines for authorization on events that city council members can attend without prior authorization. The League of California Cities meetings and those of its committees or departments are on the list.
Resendiz said the document states that pre-authorization is required for training, conference and meeting events if all expenses related to the event will total $1,000 or more.
“That clearly was not the case here,” he said. “The mayor and the council were not aware of the trip until after the trip had been taken by (Spencer). After reading the policy, it is my understanding and my firm belief that the councilman is in clear breach of it and she should be paying the entire amount of her trip to Washington D.C. back.”
The document states that each city council member is allocated $2,500 per fiscal year for training, conference and meeting expenses which meet guidelines of this policy. Furthermore, council pre-authorization is required for reimbursement for such travel that is expected to cost more than $2,500 per event. The only exception is the Annual League of California Cities Conference.
An exception for the $2,500 expense allowance is when a council member officially represents the City of Hollister before a federal, state, local or other governmental body at the request of the mayor or city manager. In this case, expenses will not be charged against a city council member’s $ 2,500 allocation limit.
The June 15 discussion became heated when Resendiz speculated that Spencer would have already sent her campaign manager and threatened to sue if he were in a similar situation.
“There’s no need for the drama or the muscle game,” he said. “Let’s put this behind, I agree you made a mistake. It could’ve been an honest mistake but own up to it.”
Spencer agreed that they do need to look past the mistake but her attempt to rebuttal was cut short by both Resendiz and Velazquez.
Velazquez said that it’s unfortunate to bring up these types of discussions. He reminded everyone that the new rules and procedures for trips are in place to limit the amount of travel taken by council members each month.
“That’s why we especially made it clear, very clear, that unless it was a League of California Cities event, you had to get permission from the council beforehand in order to get reimbursed,” he said.
Spencer said she received the budget on June 9, and that’s when she said she saw she overspent.
“I immediately called and said, who do I make a check to?” she said. “I wrote a check for $522. It was not my intention to go over budget.”
Spencer said that Resendiz accused her of taking a friend on the trip but she mentioned that it’s a false allegation.
“And I asked Ignacio Velazquez to reprimand Resendiz for his false allegation but as usual Ignacio ignored this plea,” she said.
Spencer said she got an invitation through an email and looked at it as an opportunity to help the City of Hollister. She said she attended the conferences because they provided workshops that included information on how the city can apply for federal grants.
Spencer said at one point during the meeting that the council is at an “I got you” moment.
“To be treated by these two as if I’m some kind of criminal shows me how much disdain they have for me,” she said. “And they do not care what they have to say or lie about me…this is why this council cannot work together.”