Mayor Gary Becker’s legacy may be more paperwork for city officials planning to travel.
The city’s Personnel and Finance Committee voted Monday night to draft a travel policy for employees to get reimbursed for meals, hotel rooms and airplane tickets for city business. The proposal may set limits on travel spending and formalize oversight on travel spending.
The committee also voted to draft policies regarding the mayor’s monthly car and phone allowances, and to review expenses from the mayor’s office on a quarterly basis.
Alderman David Maack brought the proposals forward. He said he had concerns about how Becker spent money as mayor and wanted more oversight of how future mayors and city employees spent money.
“I don’t see it as good practice not to have a policy in place,” he said.
Perhaps the most serious concern Maack raised was a $300 a month car allowance Becker received. The mayor unilaterally instituted the allowance in 2008 to replace the mileage payments he had received in the past. Becker, apparently, didn’t like fill out the paperwork that came with the mileage reimbursement.
Maack said he didn’t have a problem with the allowance. But he was concerned Becker changed the policy without seeking approval from City Council members.
“What I object to is it didn’t come through the council,” Maack said. “At a minimum it should have come to the finance committee for approval.”
Finance Director Dave Braun said he “wholeheartedly” agreed with Maack’s assessment.
But Maack didn’t get a receptive audience on all points. One of the biggest problems he ran into was the lack of wrongdoing by Becker in how he spent the mayor’s budget. Braun supplied the committee with Becker’s spending records. He said there didn’t appear to be any problems.
That left the committee wondering if the new policies were a solution in search of a problem. Alderman Bob Anderson said he didn’t want to “handcuff” the mayor with unnecessary policy. Maack responded he saw the policies as oversight, not handcuffing. (That led Mayor Tom Friedel to quip: “I wish they’d stop using that term.”)
Alderman Sandy Weidner, who sat in the crowd, seemed skeptical of Maack’s proposals, and pointed out a possible discrepancy in the committee’s discussion and what was posted on the meeting’s agenda. The agenda said the committee would discuss the mayor’s spending, but conversation drifted to include all employees. Her point, while possibly correct, was ignored.
She was joined in the audience by Alderman and mayor candidate Greg Helding. Police Chief Kurt Wahlen was also there.
Friedel, former chairman of the Finance committee, supported all of Maack’s proposal except one that would have required the City Council president to sign off on the mayor’s travel spending. Friedel said there were sufficient safeguards in place for travel reimbursements, and noted travel by elected officials is an important part of their job. Becker traveled the Coastal Management Group’s meetings and brought back $400,000 in grants to the city since 2004.
Maack’s motion for the City Council president sign-off died for lack of a second by the committee.
The three proposals that did pass now need to be written and approved by the committee and the full City Council to take effect.