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Taxpayers Get The Bill For Some Questionable Expenses

Tuesday, Sep. 11, 2012

Elected officials are likely to tell you that their jobs are 24/7, and that they must be available at any time to interact with the voters. I disagree.

While the oath of office commits an individual to serve the public, it does not anticipate round-the-clock access, especially for directors elected to special districts, often a part-time responsibility.

A recent investigative report showed elected officials from the Santa Clara Valley Water District in California, were reimbursed for things ranging from installation of in-home Internet access to attendance at social events. The NBC Bay Area reporters found not only were board members being paid for “official” board meetings, they were also charging for events where water district matters were not discussed. (They are also paid $286 when they meet with the district CEO.)

The district allows a “per-diem fee for attendance at events, as each member determines will best enable them to serve the District.” This broad definition has led to board members charging the public for membership fees in a Rotary Club, professional engineering societies, attendance at banquets and picnics, and the like. Directors  justify such expenses as a way of "interacting" with their constituents.

Two directors “maxed out” on the amount they could charge to the public for meeting fees alone: $34,323.60.   Director Patrick Kwok received $57,462 last year for meetings plus benefits and travel.

 Public scrutiny will lead to changes in some of these expenses, as many are unjustified.  A new practice will require posting on the Web this type of  spending by directors each quarter. Much more can and should be done to decrease spending and increase transparency.

Tags: financial disclosure, special districts, transparency

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