BARSTOW • Two months after Mayor Joe Gomez drew criticism for using city funds to pay for his swearing-in reception dinner, the City Council looked at how it handles city-sponsored celebrations.
The Council asked City Manager Richard Rowe to come back with a policy for spending on city-sponsored celebrations, which would set rules governing what expenditures would need to come before the Council for approval and which could be approved by the city manager. The city currently has no express policy on spending for celebrations, although each year's budget contains a pool of money to be spent on city-sponsored celebrations that are open to the public.
Gomez suggested $100 or $200 as an appropriate threshold, but the Council did not set a specific dollar amount at the meeting Monday.
In the past, post-swearing-in celebrations had been limited to cake and punch in the lobby outside of Council Chambers.
The city paid $435 for a party at the Los Domingos restaurant that followed the new mayor and Council's swearing-in on Dec. 15, 2008.
The event was open to the public, but other Council members were upset that Gomez had not talked to the Council about it prior to the night of the event.
"My main objective is that no one person here can be the person organizing the event without the Council's knowledge," Councilman Tim Silva said at Council meeting.
City Manager Richard Rowe authorized Gomez to spend the money prior to the event, and the Council approved it along with a list of other accounts payable in January, but several of the Council members did not realize the reception dinner had been included in the list until after the fact.
"Public perception is something I didn't consider in this whole thing, and for that I do apologize," Gomez said at Monday's meeting.
The dinner became an object of heated discussion at the Feb. 2 Council meeting after former Barstow Area Republican Caucus President Robert Vasseur brought the expenditure up during a public comment.
The Council got training on the Brown Act, which governs public meetings, as a result of the issue. Gomez said after the Feb. 2 meeting that he was concerned about a possible Brown Act violation due to a series of conversations between other Council members that took place prior to the meeting. But Tuesday he said the real Brown Act issue was the fact that the Council began discussing the expenditure issue at the Feb. 2 after Vasseur's comment, even though it was not on the meeting agenda.
"By us participating in it, we all violated the Brown Act," he said.
Gomez said the Council members are all clear on the Brown Act guidelines now.
Councilman Willie Hailey, who apologized at Monday's meeting for losing his temper during the previous discussion, said Tuesday that he felt that he and other Council members should not have talked about the issue before the Feb. 2 meeting. He said, however, that their conversations did not constitute a Brown Act violation because the expenditure had already been approved.
He and other Council members expressed a desire to put the issue behind them and move on.
"We're really trying hard to work together," Hailey said.
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