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Too Rich for Words : Harbor officials need to realize this is a recession, not a party

Among the businesses hurting right now are restaurants: Folks are eating out less. But not folks from the Harbor Department. As if to single-handedly make up for the restaurant downturn, officials there have been forking over gobs of public money at posh eateries around town.

This week Los Angeles City Controller Rick Tuttle revealed that he has rejected nearly $1,000 worth of expense accounts submitted by city harbor commissioners and other port officials because they exceed his guidelines for dining at public expense. Tuttle figures business dinners can be bought in the Los Angeles area for $30 to $40 per person, so he’s refusing to reimburse port officials for dinner tabs running as high as $78 per person.

Tuttle’s announcement followed recent articles by Times reporters who found a tendency toward high rolling in the Harbor Department. Spending on travel and promotion by port officials has doubled in the last six years--to more than $600,000. They also found that Los Angeles pays 10 times what Long Beach does to keep a full-time promotion official in Japan. This year it will cost more than $450,000.

Harbor Director Ezunial Burts claims that his agency should be exempt from the standards that other city departments must meet because its promotion and travel budget comes not from tax revenues but from port fees. No matter--it’s still public money. Burts also says entertainment and promotion spending is crucial to keeping Los Angeles Harbor the nation’s busiest cargo handler. Maybe, but why pay $78 when you can have a perfectly good dinner for $40? Such spending is excessive.

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Tuttle must stick to his guns and make the Harbor Department stay within limits--just as all the rest of us have to. And the City Council should back him up.


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