The Public Eye

Reports from the Bee's investigative team

December 9, 2010
The Money Trail: Rancho Cordova sends 14 to San Diego convention

The city of Rancho Cordova, like other cities, has managed to balance its budget with belt tightening.

Nonetheless, it loosened the cinch a tad when it sent 14 city officials, including one consultant, to the League of California Cities convention in San Diego in mid-September.

That meant three of the five elected officials - Vice Mayor Robert McGarvey and council members Linda Budge and David Sander - attended in addition to three of the five appointees on the city Planning Commission.

Another seven people on the city payroll - in addition to the consultant - made their way to Southern California for the event.

Among executives in attendance were City Manager Ted Gaebler, Assistant City Manager Joe Chinn, the city's finance director and the city clerk.

Cost to taxpayers for travel, hotel accommodations, conference registrations, exhibits and staffing for the city's free convention booth: just under $21,000.

The seven city employees who attended represent about one out of every 10 workers on the city payroll.

City officials say the money was well spent. Participants were able to join in or lead sessions on best practices for running a city effectively.

Attendees at the latest convention could join sessions to learn how representatives from other locales cope with financial crises, how to aid the homeless in tight times, and how best to maintain good relationships with labor groups as revenues shrink.

Those active in the league also can shape the cities' agenda at the Legislature.

David Ivazian, a Rancho Cordova resident, examined the city expenditures and the comparative levels of participation from other cities.

The city of Rancho Cordova, the data show, went well beyond the statewide norm for sending people. Of the 375 cities in attendance, the average city sent three to four representatives.

In Rancho Cordova, registration for 12 of the 14 attendees reached $6,000. Airline tickets, for those who didn't drive, cost about $3,900. Hotel costs were $8,300. The booth exhibits cost $1,284. Meals, at just under $1,700, rounded out the city's expense.

"I said, 'Wow, that's a lot of money,' " Ivazian said when he first heard the cost. "I get really mad when people are wasting my money."

City spokeswoman Nancy Pearl said she was surprised at the focus on the city's convention attendance. "Several of our council members moderated or participated in sessions among their peers," Pearl said in a statement.

"The individuals who believe there is some scandal that they will uncover are brewing a tempest in a teapot," she said.

The positives tell the story, she said.

The city this year received the league's Helen Putnam Award for excellence in city administration, further showing the value of learning good practices at league events, she said.

Besides, Pearl said, the money spent was minimal compared with the city's $39.3 million general fund budget - about one-twentieth of 1 percent.

- Loretta Kalb

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