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Old 10-29-2009, 10:16 AM
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ilbegone ilbegone is offline
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Default Putting lid on officials' freebies

San Bernardino County Sun Editorial

Putting lid on officials' freebies

We're pleased to see a public agency policing its own board members' spending of public funds.

Directors of the Inland Empire Utilities Agency voted 4-0 Tuesday to require fellow director Angel Santiago to reimburse $6,682.60 of agency money he spent on a trip to Washington for President Barack Obama's inauguration.

Santiago charged that amount on an agency credit card for airfare and hotel reservations before the trip.

According to the report from an outside attorney retained by the agency to investigate the matter, Santiago first received an invitation from Rep. Joe Baca, D-San Bernardino, to attend the inauguration, and only later arranged meetings with IEUA lobbyists in Washington.

But agency rules do not allow compensation to directors for meetings with lobbyists, the report states.

"It's quite clear, at least it is to me, that this was a personal trip and not agency-related business," said board member Gene Koopman, who initiated the inquiry.

Santiago, IEUA's representative on the Metropolitan Water District board and vice chairman of MWD, attended several functions and had "impromptu discussions" with elected officials including Baca, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Rancho Cucamonga Mayor Don Kurth.

We don't think that's worth $7,368.09 to IEUA's customers. That's the amount on the expense report that Santiago turned in to IEUA in February, which included airfare for his wife and three days at $217.77 per
diem. He later reimbursed the agency for his wife's airfare, minus $265.11 in miscellaneous expenses he had paid out of pocket on the trip.

Not only that, he also accepted two tickets to an inauguration luncheon worth $370 from an IEUA lobbyist, who billed the agency for the tickets, the report said. And he obtained tickets to the inaugural ball from a lobbyist, which were valued at $1,100 - in violation of an agency guideline that a director may not receive more than $480 a year in gifts and no single gift exceeding $300.

Santiago, who defended the trip at Tuesday's board meeting, said he has never questioned other board members' expenses, and perhaps the investigation sets a new standard of scrutiny.

We hope so. If that's a veiled threat from Santiago to go through the other directors' expenses with a fine-tooth comb, we're all for it.

At any time - but especially during this recession when so many people are struggling financially - it's unsettling to see elected officials helping themselves to undeserved perks as though they're falling off a tree, when in fact every single one is paid for by the public.

Do we think Santiago is the only elected official in these parts who takes a little personal advantage from his office? Heck, no. We know better.

But whenever and however it's turned up and turned aside, we feel better.
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