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Council, mayor battle over request for more travel funds
Tempers were on a short fuse at Wednesday's Yuma City Council meeting when council members challenged Mayor Al Krieger's request in a last-minute addition to the agenda for more travel funds for several upcoming meetings and events he wants to attend in the final weeks of the fiscal year.
This isn't the first time the council has tangled over travel funds. After some criticism last year about the amount of travel money the mayor was spending, the council approved giving each member their own account for the current fiscal year. The mayor was allocated $9,000 and each of the six council members $3,000. With the fiscal year to end June 30, much of that funding has already been spent.
Krieger Wednesday requested a reallocation of travel funds from individual council members' remaining travel funds to his account so he could attend a retirement event in early May in Arlington, Va., for Col. Mark Werth, former commanding officer of Marine Corps Air Station Yuma.
Deputy Mayor Leslie McClendon asked that the item be pulled from the motion consent agenda, suggesting that the mayor needed to prioritize his trips and that alternatives such as teleconferencing be considered. She also said she didn't see the need for the mayor to attend a retirement party, and that with the trip coming up at the last minute she was sure it would cost more than the requested $1,020.
Krieger defended the trip, saying it was important that the community show its support for the military and Marine Corps in particular by having the city's highest elected official in attendance. He also mentioned various other meetings coming up that he feels are vital for him to attend in Phoenix, San Diego and Mexico with additional expenses.
The discussion deteriorated quickly, with Councilman Edward Thomas saying the mayor needs to stay within his travel budget and Krieger claiming the issue had become personal.
“It's not about the money,” he said. “Face-to-face meetings are extremely important. No other situation makes more of an impact.”
Thomas, however, suggested that a “spur of the moment” trip to Washington wasn't economically sound. “It saddens me that you as the highest elected official sees this as personal. Do what is best for the community economically,” he urged the mayor.
Krieger responded that in previous meetings, the council had approved travel fund transfers for each other.
And if it is about the money, Krieger noted that the city spent $81,500 to defend against a recall effort and $75,000 to launch an investigation into him “that went nowhere.”
Councilman Jerry Stuart called for the question and when Thomas continued to speak, the mayor called him out of order. The city clerk then reminded the mayor that there was no motion of the floor. So Stuart moved that the mayor's request for more funding be denied.
“I'm embarrassed,” Krieger said. “I'm embarrassed at the council and I'm embarrassed that the 11th largest city in the state has hamstrung the city's duly elected mayor. I'm just embarrassed, and I believe the community is just as embarrassed as I am.”
McClendon said that she is “saddened that you feel the way you do. We all struggle to do what is right. I believe it's not right that you go on and on.”
She also noted that the mayor had just been to Washington, D.C., in March “and I'm sure you had a lot of great contacts.”
The five council members present voted unanimously in favor of the motion to deny the funding transfer. The mayor declined to vote, and Councilman Cody Beeson was absent.
Thomas suggested that the mayor could pay for the trip out of his pocket, while Councilwoman Bobbi Lewis reiterated that the vote had “nothing to do with personal feelings.”