Who pays for City Councilmembers when they fly international?

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City Councilmembers this week discussed rules regarding their international travel and expense reimbursement. The city funded Mayor John M. Erickson’s visit to Vatican City last year, but not Vice Mayor Chelsea Byers and then-Mayor Sepi Shyne’s informational tour of Israel.

City Council at their meeting Monday reviewed new rules regarding their travel expenses when they go abroad on behalf of the city. 

The five councilmembers currently share a $50,000 budget every year for such expenses, but on average, they only spend about $27,000 a year. They were given a choice between between “alternative A,” which would cover all travel costs like flights, hotels, and food, and “alternative B,” which would cover everything except for flights.

Councilmember John Heilman began the discussion emphasizing the necessity for any international travel to be approved by the council. Councilmember Sepi Shyne concurred and supported the proposed option that would allow airfare to be reimbursed. Given the modest remuneration of public officials in the city, who may also be juggling multiple jobs, Shyne argued that the full expenses of such business trips should be covered. However, she agreed that approval should come from the council for transparency and accountability reasons.

She reminded the council about Mayor John M. Erikson’s approved visit to the Vatican, marking the City of West Hollywood’s presence there for the first time.

Councilmember Lauren Meister highlighted concerns about the current budget allocation for travel expenses, noting that in 2023, 80% of the $50,000 budget was consumed by travel expenses of just two council members — Erickson and Vice Mayor Chelsea Byers. This situation, she argued, could potentially leave insufficient funds for other councilmembers who might wish to travel later in the year.

To address this issue, Meister proposed allocating a specific travel budget of $10,000 to each councilmember to ensure fairness and prevent budgetary constraints from affecting their ability to undertake necessary travel. Meister pointed to Santa Monica’s similar policy, where each councilmember is allocated $8,000 for travel, suggesting West Hollywood could set their budget at $10,000 per councilmember. Additionally, she recommended providing the mayor with an extra $1,000 to $2,000 for mayoral-specific conferences, like the Conference of Mayors, which other councilmembers do not attend.

Meister also mentioned the practice in Santa Monica where councilmembers who exceed their travel budget may request budget transfers from colleagues who have unused funds. This, she argued, would maintain fairness among all five councilmembers, ensuring each has the opportunity to travel as needed without the budget being prematurely depleted. She emphasized the importance of this equitable approach to avoid situations where council members might have to compete for travel funds, advocating instead for a fair and evenly split budget tailored to each council member’s needs, with additional funds available for the mayor’s specific events.

Councilmember Sepi Shyne raised concerns about the idea of reallocating unused travel budgets among councilmembers, which she saw as potentially politicizing budgetary decisions. Meister suggested that councilmembers instead request additional funds through formal council motions rather than informal reallocations.

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Vice Mayor Buyers expressed support for “alternative A,” highlighting the rarity of international trips and referencing past instances where councilmembers attended significant events abroad, such as conferences in Rome and efforts related to establishing sister city relationships with Paris.

Council agreed on approving ‘Alternative A’ and mandated that any foreign travel would need individual case-by-case approval by the Council. There was consensus on the need to review and possibly increase the overall travel budget or reassess how the $50,000 allocation is managed, especially in light of it not being exceeded in past years but recognizing individual Councilmember travel budgets might necessitate a higher total.

The conversation also entailed a procedural adjustment for handling international travel requests by proposing amendments to the existing resolution. City Attorney Lauren Langer suggested adding a new point to Section 4B, stating all international travel requires prior Council approval, and removing pre-approved international destinations from the current list. This amendment aimed to streamline the approval process by potentially replacing an existing item that required Council approval for meetings and events with a more straightforward requirement for all international travel.

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BloodshotEyedGuy
BloodshotEyedGuy
17 days ago

We should spend the money to have the Pope come to WeHo to perform an exorcism once and for all. Can I get an amen?! Sorry, I meant an awomen, er I mean athem?

West
West
15 days ago

😂😂

West
West
18 days ago

Meister is the only trustworthy person on CC. To the rest, note a Greyhound from Los Angeles to Fresno starts from $33.99. I’d happily cover their one way ticket..

greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
17 days ago
Reply to  West

Cover your own ticket and finally rid us of the constant whining.

West
West
17 days ago
Reply to  greeneyedguy

touché, GEG, touché

david
david
18 days ago

I couldn’t understand why Council feels the need to discuss raising the travel budget if they haven’t ever spent the allotted $50,000 per year. Honestly, shouldn’t all travels be approved prior to council spending and the public notified of all expenditures to keep this in check?

John Arnold
John Arnold
19 days ago

Do they fly business? Five star hotels? There’s a nuance here too.

JF1
JF1
19 days ago

Stay home. You’re a small city of 37,000 people. You’ve got plenty of problems right here in your own backyard to deal with then be jetting off internationally on taxpayers dime. Knowing that’s not going to happen, I agree with Meister.

Janice Knudsen
Janice Knudsen
18 days ago
Reply to  JF1

A BIG YES. Go out and walk. Look at this run-down hole in the ground city. Stay here and fix it.

John Arnold
John Arnold
18 days ago
Reply to  Janice Knudsen

The Sky Sanctuaries will fix everything! This 18 million dollar marvel will put West hollywood on the map!

:dpb
:dpb
19 days ago

Traveling as an official representative of the City of West Hollywood, of course travel expenses should be covered/reimbursed. But that there is the question. Why is first year councilpersons traveling abroad to begin with? How about learning the council responsibilities and providing more than photo ops? How does someone that is brand new to a position have the knowledge base to rep the city officially in another country when they’ve only lived in the city for two years? Which brings the next question, why are brand new council members vice mayor or mayor to begin with? The titles are meaningless… Read more »

Joshua88
Joshua88
18 days ago
Reply to  :dpb

A person has a life outside of city council, so let’s just say that a person brings their experiences with them and you don’t know everything about him/her.

Traveling is good for most people and building relationships with people around the world is usually a good thing.

:dpb
:dpb
18 days ago
Reply to  Joshua88

I disagree. We elect our council members to lead this city of 37,000 people in 1.9 square miles. That a two year resident and first year council member is traveling to Israel is ridiculous and that the trip was not approved at a council meeting and publicly acknowledged is not transparent and should not be covered by taxpayer dollars. And by the way, we elected a person to represent the citizens of West Hollywood, not their interests nor that “travel is good for most people”.

NOthankyousomuch
NOthankyousomuch
16 days ago
Reply to  Joshua88

Relationship with what the Pope. Only if you can get money out of the trillion dollar Roman Catholic Church that doesn’t pay taxes like all of the religious industrial complex. What a joke Ericsson is.

greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
19 days ago

I’m with Meister on this one. That is a very fair proposal!

Mikie Friedman
Mikie Friedman
19 days ago
Reply to  greeneyedguy

i agree

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