The Los Angeles City Council on Tuesday approved a stringent new policy for foreign travel by city employees, allowing only one elected or appointed official to go on each overseas trip and requiring that such travel be approved in advance by the mayor and council.
The unanimous vote came amid an uproar over a proposed 10-nation Asian-Pacific tour by a delegation of Harbor Department officials in the waning days of Mayor Tom Bradley’s tenure. The April trip was scaled back this week after widespread criticism prompted Bradley’s office to condemn the scope of the trip as “outrageous.”
Bradley is out of town until Saturday on a trip that also has taken some heat, a four-nation, $250,000 European tour organized by the Department of Airports. The lame-duck mayor has been criticized for leaving the city during a budget crisis and in the midst of the trial of the four LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney G. King.
Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, chairman of the Budget and Finance Committee, said the financially strapped city--which could face a budget deficit as high as $550 million this year--cannot sit by while some officials take jaunts in the final weeks of the Bradley Administration.
He said the public has been “offended and outraged” by the recent trips.
Deputy Mayor Mark Fabiani said Tuesday that Bradley has no problems with the new policy. He said the mayor has set three principles for his own travel: no direct expenditure of taxpayer money, a direct economic benefit for the city and the smallest possible delegation.
Although Fabiani announced Monday that the Harbor Department’s trip had been canceled except for a possible meeting in Japan, harbor officials said they still plan to visit at least two countries, Japan and Australia.
The Harbor Department has argued that a stop in Tokyo is particularly crucial because of a scheduled ceremony to close a deal for a $180-million coal-handling facility in which Japanese investors are partners. Harbor officials argue that the investors would be insulted if Bradley did not make the trip, although Bradley’s office has said he will attend only if it does not conflict with the verdicts in the King trial.
Technically, the City Council has direct authority over all departments except Harbor, Airports and Water and Power, which are semiautonomous. But the council said it will use its budgetary authority as leverage to force those departments to comply with the new regulations.
The council’s policy is even stricter than the informal restrictions that Controller Rick Tuttle had been imposing on travel requests. He limited the number of commissioners on such trips to two. Last month, he demanded a cutback in a Harbor Department marketing trip to San Francisco and Hawaii in which all five members of the Harbor Commission were scheduled to take part.
The council said it will reconsider its policy after a new mayor takes office in July. In consultation with the new administration, the council hopes to develop a comprehensive city travel policy.