City Council members use discretionary accounts to rip off taxpayers???This article didn't specifically say if the royal rulers of Tempe receive these called discretionary funds which are used to rip off the taxpayers.
The article did say 10 valley cities do have the funds but only listed 5 cities which are Phoenix, Peoria, Glendale, Mesa, Chandler and Avondale.
I wouldn't have created this web page if I didn't think the government in the city of Tempe was corrupt to the core.
But, despite my belief that the city of Tempe government is corrupt I don't know if the Tempe City Council members get these discretionary funds.
City Council members use discretionary accounts to steal money from the taxpayers???
Discretionary council funds scrutinized
By David Madrid The Republic | azcentral.com Sun Dec 30, 2012 12:16 AM
A Phoenix councilman [Phoenix Vice Mayor Michael Johnson who is a former Phoenix Police Officer] used more than $20,000 to attend conferences.
A West Valley councilwoman [Glendale Councilwoman Norma Alvarez] used $18,000 to pave a road in her district.
A small-city mayor [Surprise Mayor Lyn Truitt] spent nearly $70 to buy shirts and monogram “mayor” on them.
All three tapped so-called discretionary funds, public money that is spent at a council member’s discretion with little public scrutiny.
In the last two years, 10 Valley cities have spent $1.2 million in taxpayer funds for meals, travel, construction projects and iPads, an investigation by The Arizona Republic has found.
The money also was used to pay for more run-of-the-mill expenses like photos, picture frames, candy for a parade and appreciation plaques. [Stuff that is really needed by the taxpayers - at least that's what these royal rulers say]
These purchases were made as recession-battered cities have cut jobs, delayed maintenance and asked residents to cope with fewer services.
Supporters of discretionary funds say they are a useful tool and can pay for neighborhood projects, charity donations, lobbying trips and training for newly elected leaders. [And increasing their income without the taxpayers finding out, well except when articles like this are published]
Critics worry that the main beneficiaries are council members themselves. [and the critics are right] While the funds are just a sliver of a multimillion-dollar city budget, local politicians can use the money to take pricey trips or raise their profile by splurging on favored projects in their districts, some say.
Despite city leaders’ best intentions, discretionary funds are ripe for misuse or even abuse, according to ethics experts and some city leaders.
“You can spend on just about anything you want,” said Surprise City Councilman Mike Woodard, who has been critical of the funds and helped change how they are handled in his city.
“It’s not appropriate,” he said.
How it works
A discretionary account is a pool of money, often taken from a city’s general fund, that is set aside for an individual council member to use at his or her discretion. It’s a common practice among city councils around the country. In the Valley, 10 cities, including Phoenix, Peoria, Glendale, Mesa, Chandler and Avondale, maintain discretionary funds, which range from $500 to more than $30,000 a year.
Council members vote on the amount they are allowed to spend each year. In some cities, mayors receive more than other council members. [If a council member votes themselves a $5,000 pay raise everybody finds out about it. If instead they vote themselves a $5,000 increase in discretionary money nobody finds out.]
Although the amounts are outlined in the city budget, details on how the money is spent is not discussed in public meetings.
Still, most communities have discretionary-fund policies, though they vary widely in the level of oversight. Some cities won’t cut a check unless an expense meets discretionary-fund rules. Others merely ask council members to provide receipts.
Avondale’s policy, for example, is informal. “Council member discretionary funds ... can be used for any legal public purpose such as official City travel, educational opportunities such as training or conferences, support of non-profit organizations, etc.,” it states. [And the taxpayers rarely find out when they are used for illegal purchases]
Several cities allow council members to “roll over” unused dollars to the next year or to borrow money from council colleagues when they run out of cash. [Sounds more like an illegal slush fund then a discretionary fund!!!]
The Phoenix council has an executive assistant who acts as a gatekeeper approving each expense. [Yea, an executive assistant that works for the person spending the money. Ask an accountant if this is a good "internal control" to keep the money from being used illegally and they will tell you it isn't!!!!]
Tracking the spending often falls to a city administrator, who can’t hold a public official accountable, said Judy Nadler, a senior fellow in government ethics at Santa Clara University, in Santa Clara, Calif.
The Republic examined council and mayor discretionary funds with travel and capital spending for fiscal years 2010-11 and 2011-12.
Other Valley city councils without discretionary funds pay for these expenses through the budget process. The Republic did not examine those budgets.
Conferences and travel
The Republic analysis shows that about 15 percent of discretionary funds were spent on travel and conference-related expenses in 2010-11 and 2011-12. [So it's really travel and party money, that is kept secret from the taxpayers???]
Officials in Valley cities without discretionary funds also use taxpayer money to travel but do it through the budget process, allowing public input.
Local leaders who support the out-of-town trips say they help cement federal support for local programs. Conferences help council members learn how to better represent their constituents. [These guys were elected to city government officers, there is no need for them to hobnob with government officials in Washington D.C.]
The benefits of such travel, supporters and critics agree, can be hard to quantify. [And that's why city council members love these discretionary accounts]
Phoenix Vice Mayor Michael Johnson spent more than $22,000 in discretionary funds on conference-related hotels and travel. He spent more discretionary funds on hotels and travel than any other council member or mayor in the Valley. That included hotel bills for National League of City conferences totaling more than $5,000 for two stays at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. [Wow! I wonder when he has time to work at his real job in Phoenix as a Phoenix Council member]
For those conferences, he stayed in the hotel for at least a week, said Johnson, who serves on the Advisory Board of the National League of Cities. He was also the president of the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials, a group within the league.
The benefits to the city of his trips far exceed the money he spent on travel, Johnson added. [Of course he didn't give the Arizona Republic any hard numbers] In addition to attending the conferences, he met with the state’s congressional delegation and had a sit-down meeting with President Barack Obama.
However, it is difficult to calculate how many dollars exactly those trips brought to Phoenix, Johnson said. “It’s hard to say, ‘Well, can you tell me the exact amount you were responsible for?’ That would be difficult to say,” he said.
Those meetings helped Phoenix get utility subsidies for the poor and allowed the city to keep its share of Community Development Block Grants, a federal program that aims to spur development in low-income neighborhoods, the councilman said. The trips also helped bring the league’s 2011 Congress of Cities conference to Phoenix, which generated $4.5 million in direct spending, Johnson said.
Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers, who is president of the National League of Cities, said conferences are valuable for new and experienced city leaders alike. At league conferences, council members learn about open-meeting laws, new technological advances and how to handle the relationships between city leaders and city employees, Rogers said. She used discretionary funds for her travel to conferences but was reimbursed for most of it by the national league.
But Phoenix City Councilman Sal DiCiccio said he doesn’t see the value in extensive conference attendance. “Quite frankly, if it was that important for someone to go, you don’t have to have more than one person go to those things to represent your city,” DiCiccio said.
And in the age of teleconferencing, such travel can be reduced, said Kevin McCarthy, president of the Arizona Tax Research Association.
But Rogers said that in politics a conference call is not always as effective as an in-person visit. When Goodyear and Litchfield Park needed to prod federal officials about polluted groundwater or when federal grants to cities were on the chopping block, local leaders had to travel to Washington, she said. [Of course the city council members will use any lame excuse they can to take the money and run.]
“Certainly we can use technology,” she said. “We use technology as much as we can, but politics is about relationships, and if you don’t build those face-to-face contacts, you lose something.”
Some city leaders pour discretionary funds into neighborhoods, using it to pay for projects that might not otherwise receive funding but also to bolster council members’ political profiles. The money can pay to stucco old walls, paint graffiti-covered fences, and help local homeowners associations pay for improvements. For example, Peoria City Councilwoman Joan Evans spent $1,275 for community-pool improvements at Lake Pleasant Estates.
Council members say this is often an ideal way to spend the money, making small, badly needed upgrades in their community. [So if the money is spent this way it means the normal way government operates isn't working???]
Ethics experts warn that this kind of spending may encourage council members to use the money for political advantage.
In February, Glendale Councilwoman Norma Alvarez paid Vulcan Materials Co. $18,138 from her discretionary account to provide asphalt for repairs to Griffin Lane, a quarter-mile-long, dead-end neighborhood street. City workers paved the road. [I bet everybody on that block voted to reelect Glendale Councilwoman Norma Alvarez. Of course she will say the $18,138 wasn't used to buy votes]
It was legitimate discretionary spending: Glendale’s policy allows each council member to spend up to $15,000 on construction or equipment. [Legitimate doesn't mean ethical. ]
Alvarez said that south Glendale is not the city’s priority but that the repaving was something constituents wanted. The city could not otherwise have afforded it at a time when Glendale was cutting library services and recreation programs. [Well if the city couldn't have afforded it she shouldn't have spent the money]
“The project was needed,” she said. “I was told I had miscellaneous money to go to conferences and so forth. ... I have spent all the money in the neighborhoods.”
Stuart Kent, Glendale executive director of public works, said Griffin Lane was on a list of streets identified as below standards and in need of work. City employees repaved the road at Alvarez’s request, he said.
In Peoria, Vice Mayor Ron Aames spends almost 75 percent of his discretionary funds on neighborhood-improvement projects, [buying votes in his district??? I'm sure he will have a lame excuse to deny that] some of which he features prominently in newsletters he sends to constituents. The articles feature photographs of Aames and residents smiling in front of the improvements such as neighborhood-entry signs.
Aames, who was unopposed in his bid for a second term in the November 2010 election, said he isn’t campaigning using discretionary funds. He defended the newsletters, saying his constituents have a right to know what he is doing. [But he didn't say it's a lot cheaper to spend the taxpayers money to get himself reelected, then spending his own money]
“Communication is important,” he said. “I do it primarily so people know who I am and are aware that they can make such requests, and we do this in the district.”
It is difficult to say whether officials are touting such projects to lay the groundwork for their next election, said James Svara, a professor in the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University. “Is that a project of sufficient importance that it warrants being done, compared with other uses that money could be put to?” he asked. [Then if this stuff is so questionable, then it probably shouldn't be done]
Aames said the projects return tax money to citizens. [Liar, liar, pants on fire???] Using discretionary funds allows him to work directly with residents, instead of directing them to a city program. [And it sure buys a lot of votes when it comes to getting reelected]
Another popular, and significant, discretionary expenditure is donating money to charity. [There is nothing I hate more then charity at gun point. That's when our government rulers tax you so they can give YOUR money to THEIR favorite charity.]
Especially in bad economic times, discretionary money helps non-profits provide valuable services to residents, council members say. But the donations can raise questions about relationships between city leaders and those who benefit from the gift.
Phoenix City Councilwoman Thelda Williams spent almost $3,000 at Turf Paradise for a dance and dinner to raise money for the Pioneer Arizona Living History Museum and Village, a city park in her district. She said the Pioneer ball raised $15,000 for the museum. [Maybe, since the party was pay with taxpayer money, the public should have been invited to attend it free of charge. But Phoenix City Councilwoman Thelda Williams probably wouldn't like that!!]
“I do an annual fundraiser for them, and we do it there, because they give us the best price,” she said of Turf Paradise, a horse-racing track, which isn’t in her district.
Williams received a $430 campaign donation from Ronald Simms, a co-owner of Turf Paradise. But Williams said the donation had nothing to do withher choosing the racetrack for the event. “You’re talking horses. It’s in the pioneer theme,” she said. [Honest, it's not a bribe. Honest, it's not a bribe]
In 2010, Woodard, the Surprise councilman, donated $1,200 to a holiday-lights extravaganza at a private home known as the “Christmas House.” Woodard said he was criticized for giving money to private citizens, and people speculated that he bought decorations for the house or paid the electric bill. Rather, the money paid for toys to give to hundreds of children who came to see the house, Woodard said.
“I would do it again given the opportunity, but the way it is now, it would have to be approved by the council,” he said.
Another Surprise politician, former Mayor Lyn Truitt, made several unusual purchases using discretionary funds. While Truitt was mayor, the council bought iPads using the funds. He said council members had a choice between iPads or laptops. Other cities have purchased iPads for council members but went through the public budgeting process to buy them.
Truitt also spent $68 on shirts and a jacket, which he had embroidered with his title and name. That way, residents and visitors who didn’t know him could identify him, he said. “I believe it was an appropriate council expenditure,” he said. [and the rest of us believe that he ripped off the taxpayers]
While some city leaders are uneasy about how discretionary funds are being spent, few outside groups monitor them.
The money is a small fraction of overall city budgets. For example, in Phoenix, City Council and mayoral discretionary spending totals about $80,000 annually, while the city budget is $3.5 billion. [I think what they are saying is since the city of Phoenix annually spends $3.5 billion it's no big deal if the members of the Phoenix city council rip off the taxpayers for $80,000 annually???]
Still, some are advocating changes in the way discretionary funds are handled.
In Surprise, Woodard has successfully pushed for change. This year, the council agreed to cut its discretionary budget and pool the money in a community-outreach pot. Any spending from the community-outreach fund requires a council vote.
Earlier this month, Glendale’s City Council offered to reduce each council member’s discretionary fund from $33,000 to $9,000 annually. The decision comes as city leaders consider eliminating 64 full-time positions to save $6 million during the next fiscal year.
Nadler, the university ethics fellow, said she doesn’t see any movement across the country to end discretionary funds or revise how they are handled. But, she said, given cities’ financial struggles, the time has come to do so. “We’ve reduced police forces. We’ve reduced the hours at the library,” she said.
“So we cannot afford to waste one dime on expenses that are not legitimate and that do not advance the work elected officials are charged to do on behalf of the public,” Nadler said.
Phoenix: Spending limit not exceeded - Honest that's what the mayor says!!!!Source
Phoenix: Spending limit not exceeded
By David Madrid The Republic | azcentral.com Sun Dec 30, 2012 12:13 AM
Former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon overspent his discretionary funds while he was in office.
Or he didn’t.
City figures show that in fiscal year 2010-11 Gordon spent $17,000 more than the $5,000 limit on the taxpayer-funded account. [I'm sure he will say that this looks bad, but honest, he didn't rip off the taxpayers for $12,000]
A city spokeswoman sees it differently. [Well let's say a city spokeswoman that works for Mayor Gordon and is paid by Mayor Gordon, and is only accountable to Mayor Gordon sees it differently] Since Gordon’s total spending that year was lower than his total $1.6 million mayoral budget, it’s not important if the former mayor overspent in one category.
The Arizona Republic requested discretionary-fund spending data from 10 cities — including Phoenix — that have such accounts for city-council members. The other cities are Glendale, Peoria, Mesa, Avondale, Chandler, Tolleson, Litchfield Park, Goodyear and Surprise.
The funds are supposed to be spent on expenses that ultimately help residents. In many cities, council members and mayors must follow some guidelines. For some, however, there is little oversight and city leaders spend the money as they see fit.
Gordon was Phoenix’s mayor from 2004 to 2012.
Toni Maccarone, a Phoenix spokeswoman, said Gordon’s total office budget in fiscal year 2010-11 was $1,588,202. His year-end actual spending was $1,338,332, she said.
So therefore, Gordon’s office was $249,870 under its budget, she said.
“That is what is important for the overall city budgeting process, not whether one particular line item in the budget was over or under, because departments can make up for it with underspending in other areas of their budgets,” Maccarone said.
In Phoenix, the mayor’s and council members’ budgets are divided into several categories, said Mario Paniagua, Phoenix budget and research director.
Gordon’s overall $1.6 million budget included discretionary funds as well as money for personnel services that covered staff costs, contractual services and office supplies.
The discretionary budget is for the mayor and council’s miscellaneous expenses including constituent services, outreach and travel, Paniagua said.
In an interview, Gordon said he filled out proper paperwork for the discretionary-account expenses, which were approved.
According to city documents, Gordon spent $14,085 of his discretionary funds over the two fiscal years on conferences and business travel.
The rest of his discretionary money paid for event-support services and office supplies.
In addition to the taxpayer-funded money, Gordon controlled an account that was funded by donations from developers and other political supporters.
“What I call my discretionary funds, I raised all privately and had the downtown partnership oversee that,” he said.
Valley officials' purchases using discretionary fundsSource
Valley officials' purchases using discretionary funds
The Republic | azcentral.com Sun Dec 30, 2012 12:08 AM
In the last two years, 10 Valley cities have spent $1.2 million in taxpayer funds for meals, travel, construction projects and iPads, an investigation by The Arizona Republic has found.
Here is a closer look at some of the more unusual uses of discretionary funds:
Phoenix City Councilwoman Thelda Williams spent almost $3,000 at Turf Paradise to help pay for a museum fundraiser. The horse-racing track is co-owned by a campaign donor.
Glendale Councilwoman Norma Alvarez paid more than $18,000 to repave a road. Without her help, she says, the road would have remained a low city priority.
Former Surprise Mayor Lyn Truitt bought an iPad with discretionary funds. He said the council chose to purchase iPads because they are less cumbersome than laptops and help with constituent email and keeping a city calendar.
Truitt also spent $68 on shirts and a jacket, which he had embroidered with his title and name. He said that helped residents because people who didn’t know him were able to identify him when he was in public and could approach him. [Sorry Mayor Truitt a 50 cent name tag would have been a lot cheaper!!!]
Phoenix City Councilman Michael Nowakowski paid $5,822 over two years to a children’s inflatable bounce house business to rent a screen and projector used for a movies in the park program in Southwest Phoenix.
Former Surprise Councilman Mike Woodard, a foe of most discretionary spending, donated $1,200 to the “Christmas House” which featured many holiday lights. Woodard was criticized by residents for giving money to private citizens. He said the money was used to buy toys for children, and he would do it again.
Mayoral and city council discretionary fund spendingSource
Mayoral and city council discretionary fund spending
A discretionary account is a pool of money, often taken from a city’s general fund, that is set aside for an individual council member to use at his or her discretion. The use of discretionary funds is a common practice among city councils around the country.
In the Valley, 10 cities, including Phoenix, Peoria, Glendale, Mesa, Chandler and Avondale maintain discretionary funds. Funds across the Valley range from $500 a year to $33,000.
Some cities allow their councils and mayors to roll over unspent discretionary funds into next year's budgets. Peoria, Glendale and Avondale all allow for this. Avondale and Goodyear allows council members to give some of their discretionary budget to other members.
The following individuals spent more than their budgets in either Fiscal Year 2011 or Fiscal Year 2012: Avondale Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers went over $500 in FY 2012 and Vice Mayor Stephanie Karlin went over her FY 2011 budget by $872.
Phil Gordon went over his FY 2011 budget of $5,000, spending $21,955.53.
In Mesa, Mayor Scott Smith spent $23,227.94 in FY 2012, going over his $18,000 by $5,227.94. [This is the same Mayor Scott Smith who is going to help the Feds reign in their spending and balance the budget??? What a joke!!!!]
[To see the graphs that came with this article check out the original article in the Arizona Republic here]
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