MAYWOOD — The City Council has voted to rescind its monthly $250 travel stipend for all elected officials, an action following a state audit that recommended the city replace it with the mileage reimbursement rate set by the Internal Revenue Service.
The city covers about 1.14 square miles. Using the suggested reimbursement rate of 54 cents per mile, city officials would need to drive 463 miles per month on city business to reach the $250 mark.
“Although the travel stipend seemed reasonable at the time, given our travel and meeting requirements, including a number of trips outside the city, we really needed to go in a different direction,” Mayor Ramon Medina said in a statement.
Mayor Pro Tem Eduardo De La Riva questioned the motives behind the vote.
“The only reason for the change is because the audit mentioned that it needed to be corrected, not because the council thinks it’s right or wrong,” he said.
Medina said the stipend also covered travel to board meetings in neighboring cities such as Bell Gardens, Huntington Park and Whittier council members are sometimes required to attend
“The $250 was not just for gas, but also for the wear and tear of the tires,” Medina said.
Also, some of the organizations that hold meetings outside of Maywood pay council members to attend and sit on the boards. For example, HUB Cities Consortium pays Medina $250 to serve as a board member and he receives $115 to attend the monthly Los Angeles County Sanitation District meetings, according to De La Riva.
Other organizations that provide council members with a travel stipend include the Greater Los Angeles County Vector Control District, at $100, and Gateway Cities Council of Governments, also $100.
Council members also attend meetings for other organizations that do not provide travel reimbursements. These include the I-710 Corridor Improvement Committees and California League of Cities.
De La Riva said, “nobody tends to fight over those.”
Medina also claimed the reimbursement went towards car trips to Sacramento about every three months, a statement De La Riva called, “a bold-faced lie.”
According to De La Riva, council members do not drive to Sacramento, as the city already pays for flights and hotels.
“He should know better,” De La Riva said of Medina. “This was just a pay raise for him.”
Council members already receive a monthly stipend of $556 per month, part of which is meant to alleviate travel costs, De La Riva said.
He said various organizations also pay council members to attend their meetings and sit on the boards. For example, HUB Cities Consortium pays Medina $250 to serve as a board member and he receives $115 to attend the monthly Los Angeles County Sanitation District meetings, De La Riva said.
The state audit that uncovered the travel stipend revealed years of mismanagement of the city, which has a deficit of more than $15 million. Maywood has undergone a high turnover of leadership with fourmayors and three city administrators since last December.
Councilman Tom Martin proposed to add the mileage stipend in December during his short stint as mayor. Every council member voted in favor of it except for De La Riva.
“Since the city hasn’t been on strong financial footing for years, I didn’t think it was right to give ourselves more money,” De La Riva said. “I immediately asked to be removed from the list.”
De La Riva said he kept “automatically” receiving the extra stipend despite repeated requests for exclusion. In July 2016, he asked Reuben Martinez, the interim city administrator, to stop providing him with the reimbursement via email. In the text, he referenced a previous verbal request to stop receiving the $250.
“De La Riva may have stopped taking it, but he took it for a number of months,” Medina said.
The 2015 measure granted the stipend to every elected official, including the city clerk and city treasurer, who do not travel, according to De La Riva.
“The city treasurer is an outdated position,” De La Riva said. “We already have a financial department.”
Gloria Viramontes, Medina’s sister, currently occupies the office.