Council members must uncloak stipends
August 31, 2011
A law taking effect in January targets a common practice of some California city council members of improperly fattening their paychecks with multiple-meeting stipends.
The new law requires local lawmakers to announce the amount of stipends they will receive when conducting simultaneous, or back-to-back, meetings.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed the measure, by Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, in late July, calling it a response to the city of Bell’s financial scandal which surfaced over the past two years. There, a number of high-ranking city officials in the tiny, working-class suburb of Los Angeles were taking more than $100,000 and as much as $800,000 annually in salaries and hidden payments. The Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on the $5.5 million Bell scandal.
During committee testimony on the bill, lawmakers were told that so-called “serial meetings” for various commissions, library boards, redevelopment panels, and public financing authorities often provide stipends which are disguised and difficult for outsiders to audit. And many times, such meetings might last only minutes.
Former Atascadero mayor Mike Brennler, a retired police officer, said he wasn’t aware of any such stipends paid for multiple city meetings while he was in office, adding, “I sat in on some of those meetings, and usually it’s just a bunch of people bloviating.”