The Redondo Beach City Council is re-evaluating its mileage reimbursement policy after a former councilman came under criticism for submitting an expense claim that critics believe is inflated.
The debate began when former Councilman Terry Ward, who lost a reelection bid last month, asked the city to reimburse him $2,715 for expenses incurred since April 1992. Included was a request for $2,340 for 600 miles of driving every month between April, 1992, and April, 1993.
To drive that many miles each month in a 6.1-square-mile city, critics noted, Ward would have had to drive 20 miles a day on city business every day of the year, including weekends.
"I suspect that he never, on a daily basis, drove in his district," Councilman Stevan Colin said.
Added Councilman Robert Pinzler, who defeated Ward in last month's election: "You can get hemorrhoids from being in the car that long."
Ward, who signed the voucher request under penalty of perjury, said he limited his routine driving expenses to 600 miles a month, but that he actually drove a lot more.
"You just don't drive (within) the city," said Ward, a data processing consultant who works from his home. "That's ludicrous. People said I would have to drive up and down my district 20 times a day every day of the year. But whoever said that's the only place I drove? As a councilman, there's a lot of places you have to go."
During his tenure on the council, Ward said he frequently met in person with constituents who wanted to speak with him about some pressing issue in the district. As an officer of the Independent Cities Assn., Ward said he also was frequently called out of town for seminars, sometimes as far away as San Diego County.
Council members receive a monthly salary of $638. They receive no car allowance, but may receive reimbursement for mileage--at a rate of 30 cents a mile--and other expenses. Although they are allowed unlimited expenses, in recent years they have voluntarily limited their mileage claims to 600 miles a month.
At least one councilman, Joseph Dawidziak, advocates adopting a flat monthly car allowance to avoid the need to submit mileage claims altogether.
At its meeting this week, the council debated Ward's reimbursement claim, eventually deciding on a 4-1 vote to pay only those expenses that Ward incurred in the previous 60 days--or $404 of the $2,715 claim.
Council members said they were limiting Ward's claim on the basis of a 1980 resolution requiring all claims to be made within 60 days.
The council also decided to review its reimbursement policy at the next meeting, looking for a set of guidelines that would apply to all city employees, including council members.
Ward expressed disappointment at the city's refusal to pay all of his claim, but said he will not fight for more money.
"They ruled and I'll live with it," Ward said.
Dawidziak cast the dissenting vote. He said it was unfair to hold Ward to a 60-day deadline when the council had made numerous exceptions in the past. He also said the vote represented a "political hatchet job" against Ward and was an attempt by fellow council members to earn political mileage at Ward's expense.
"Instead of wanting a conversation about what is fair, they wanted to make an example for their own political gain," Dawidziak said.
The controversy, in fact, echoed arguments Pinzler used against Ward during his campaign for the council.
Pinzler often attacked Ward for what he called excessive expenses. In a three-year analysis of city records covering April, 1989, to March, 1992, Pinzler found that Ward had charged the city more than $19,000 in expenses, about a third of which represented mileage. Those numbers were verified this week by Asst. City Manager Ken Simmons, who said Ward's total expenses during that period came out to $19,697, of which $7,167 came from mileage claims.
Questions about Ward's reimbursement requests were first raised in April, 1992, when Ward submitted a mileage claim for $1,140 that charged the city for 600 miles of driving every month for the previous six months, as well as a trip to Santa Barbara for a seminar by the Independent Cities Assn.
The council paid the entire claim. Colin, who was among Ward's critics, said the council did not know about the 60-day limit at the time.
After that controversy, Ward did not submit another claim for expenses until last week. Colin and others accused Ward of delaying his submission to avoid public scrutiny before the May 11 election.
"He knew it would be an issue in the election," said Colin, who supported Pinzler in the race. "He was playing a game."
Ward, however, said it was Colin and Pinzler who were playing games.
"Look at this campaign they waged against me," Ward said. "They said I was a failed councilman, that crime in my district soared. Come on! No one worked harder against crime and graffiti than me."
Politics notwithstanding, Colin said that once the council learned of the 60-day limit, it had no choice but to enforce it.
"To look the other way is just a continuance" of a past wrong, Colin said at the council meeting. "To give this money away today, knowing the voucher was not submitted on a timely basis, in my opinion would constitute a gift" of public funds, he said.
Ward, however, insisted the claim was legitimate and urged his doubters on the council to keep a log of the number of miles they drive every month. If they are doing their job, he said, they will find they drive far more than 600 miles a month.
"It never ends," Ward said of the times he had to drive somewhere to meet a constituent's need. "There's lots of things I never put in for."