Spending guidelines being fine-tuned; City-funded agencies face expenses limits

By Jennifer Vigil

February 5, 2004

A San Diego City Council committee has agreed in concept to new guidelines to limit spending on travel and entertainment by city-funded agencies, but the committee wants the city manager's office to refine the proposals.

Changes would include allowing a per-diem rate for travel, rather than banning those expenditures altogether, and setting a lower threshold to require agencies to report employee wages.

The proposals, presented to the Rules, Finance and Intergovernmental Relations Committee are being considered in the aftermath of revelations about executive compensation and spending by agencies that receive city money.

Recent audits and other reports have focused on management of the San Diego Convention and Visitors Bureau, the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corp. and the San Diego Data Processing Corp.

Data Processing's top executive resigned last month following an audit that detailed lavish spending on retreats, dining and cocktails.

The president of the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau received an interest-free $50,000 loan and $306,000 in salary and bonuses last year.

And, the chief executive of the San Diego Economic Development Corp. has received as much as $515,000 in salary and bonuses in a single year.

The council committee also called for City Manager Michael Uberuaga to review the process for employing outside auditors.

Critics have said it took too long to reveal the spending problems at the data corporation.

"You don't need extensive accounting ability to figure out what is going on," Councilman Brian Maienschein said. "I want to see a review of that and see if we need to make some changes."

Uberuaga said the issue would return to the committee within 60 days.

The five-member panel -- it's led by Mayor Dick Murphy and includes council members Toni Atkins, Jim Madaffer, Scott Peters and Maienschein -- unanimously agreed to the manager's recommendations that agencies using city money be required to disclose salaries and benefits paid to executives.

It also bans the spending of city money for alcohol.

Finance officials had suggested that the city require those details from agencies that receive $1 million or more in city money, but the committee said that threshold should be reduced because few agencies receive that much.

Maienschein recommended a level of $200,000, while Murphy suggested $250,000.

The San Diego Union-Tribune (Print Edition)
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