Once again the overspent travel budget for the city of Yuma's mayor and city council was a heated topic.
And it wasn't even an agenda item for Wednesday's Yuma City Council meeting, as City Attorney Steve Moore finally pointed out when the discussion had gone on for some time.
The topic was brought up by Councilman Paul Johnson, who asked that it be put on the next council meeting April 4 with possible action on how to get the spending under control. He also asked that city staff be directed to research the expenditures to date and provide an analysis.
The travel budget was $17,000 for the current fiscal year that runs through June 30. However, the council and mayor have spent $37,000 on travel so far.
Mayor Al Krieger took Johnson's request as a personal attack and defended the amount of travel he does as the official representative of the city to such meetings as the recent National League of Cities conference in Washington, D.C.
“The office of the mayor is a separate office from the council ... elected at large by the public,” he said. “I don't know of anywhere the charter gives the council the ability to dictate to a separate elected official. Likewise the mayor of the council.”
Krieger said he agreed that the budget is overspent. But he argued for a different venue for discussion that can include public input on expectations of what citizens want the “highest elected representative to do to represent the community, which includes a lot of travel.”
Johnson pointed out that during these difficult economic times, the city has had to freeze pay and cut back on expenses.
“We have a fiduciary responsibility to the community to control the budget. The council as a group approves the budget. ... I think overspending needs council action.”
Johnson's motion to put the item on the next council agenda passed 4-3, with Councilwomen Leslie McClendon and Bobbi Brooks voting no, saying they thought a work session or roundtable would be a better venue for the discussion.
Krieger also voted no, saying, “It's obvious certainly to me and anyone watching that this is simply another attempt to diminish the office of the mayor ... neuter, if you will. I'm offended. No one talked to me personally. I'm disappointed by the way things are being done.”
Johnson asked to make additional comments, but Krieger declined to give him the floor, saying the motion was finished.
To which Johnson responded: “We shouldn't have discussed it at all. You took it personally.”
After the meeting, Krieger expanded on why he believes it's important for the mayor to be at the table with meetings at every level of government from the Legislature and Governor's Office to Washington, D.C.
“All those people want to deal with the mayor. The mayor is elected as the head representative of the city elected by the people,” he said.
With Yuma being a rural area isolated from the rest of the state, the community “desperately needs a face, a familiar face” to represent its interests.
“Every city needs that — and it costs money.”
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6853. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YSJoyceLobeck or on Twitter at @YSJoyceLobeck.