City Controller Rick Tuttle said Tuesday he will increase scrutiny of travel invoices because of concerns that members of Mayor Tom Bradley's Administration may be trying to cash in with extravagant trips before their terms end.
With less than four months remaining in Bradley's tenure, Tuttle said he will send a letter to city departments warning that he will be extra vigilant in reviewing travel requests.
The controller raised the issue after learning that Bradley, four airport commissioners and two other officials will take a four-city tour of Europe. The cost of the trip, originally estimated at $270,000, was revised to $250,000 by the mayor's office Tuesday.
Bradley, in a prepared statement, called the two-week European tour "vitally important" to restoring the city's image after last year's riots. Bradley will leave Friday and meet with newspaper, radio and television reporters in four cities--London, Milan, Frankfurt and Paris.
Tuttle agreed that the trip will serve a legitimate purpose, but he suggested limiting the number of officials traveling to prevent "an extravagant use of public funds."
The controller had earlier established guidelines mandating that only two commissioners travel to any destination. But the mayor's plans called for three airport commissioners--Johnnie Cochran, Maria Elena Durazo and Jack Tenner--to visit Paris.
"By a common sense standard, it is excessive to have more than one or two commissioners go at this late point in their tenure," Tuttle said.
Tuttle said he called Bradley on Tuesday to ask him to scale back the trip slightly, limiting the travel of at least one commissioner.
But Bradley's spokeswoman, Vallee Bunting, said the mayor's office had recognized that the European itinerary exceeded the limit of two commissioners per destination before Tuttle's phone call.
So Bradley called Tenner and got him to agree to pay his own way to Paris, since the city was already footing the bill for two other commissioners to visit France, Bunting said.
The dispute is the second in a little more than a month between Tuttle and Bradley.
In February, the controller objected to a marketing trip that was to send the entire five-member Harbor Commission and the commission's secretary to San Francisco, with four commissioners going on to Honolulu.
After Tuttle's protests, the Harbor Department agreed to send only two commissioners with Bradley.
Tuttle has argued that it is not wise to send officials overseas as representatives of the city when they will not be in office in a few months to take advantage of contacts they have made abroad.
Bradley's commission appointees are expected to be replaced soon after the July 1 swearing in of his successor.
"There will be an increased burden (on commissioners) to show the value of their trips and to consider that against their short tenure," Tuttle said.
But Bunting said the issue is being overblown. She noted that money for the tour will not be taken from other city services, since it will come from the Department of Airports, the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau and a federal grant.
But Councilman Joel Wachs, one of several mayoral hopefuls who criticized the trip, described the money as taxpayer funds and called for all city officials traveling outside the city to report back afterward on their activities.
Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Panorama City), another mayoral contender, said the mayor would do more good for the city traveling to Washington in an attempt to clear obstacles to the city's use of airport funds to hire more police.