Tustin Councilwoman Deborah Gavello wants to cut out taxpayer-funded meals for City Council members before council meetings, saying it is an unnecessary extravagance in such difficult economic times.
Yet, she said, she can’t get a public airing of the issue because her colleagues are keeping it off the agenda.
Other council members say Gavello’s crusade is not on behalf of taxpayers, but in response to revelations of her own over-the-top expense reporting. And, they say, because she was denied a request for a special chicken dish.
Tustin, like many other cities, offers dinner to council and staff members before the start of the regular council meeting. The OC Register reported that the cost to the city is $5,040 per year and breaks down to $210 per meeting. The food, according to the Register, is ordered from Azzara’s Catering.
Gavello says she has tried many times to have the council meals issue placed on the council meeting agenda, but that each time she has tried, City Manager William Huston and Mayor Jerry Amante have ignored her request.
“One of my colleagues will interrupt, which isn’t following protocol, and they’ll say ‘oh Deborah we’ve already looked at that we can’t look at it again,’ the city manager will listen to Doug, or Jerry, or John,” Gavello said, referring to other members of the council.
Amante refutes Gavello’s claim that numerous requests to have the council meals issue placed on the agenda were denied, and Councilman Doug Davert says the issue was dealt with during a budget workshop earlier this year.
They say Gavello is still sore over an article in The Orange County Register that revealed some lavish expense reporting. According to the Register, Gavello billed the city nearly $600 for a subscription to the Register, her personal cell phone, internet, mileage and even a footstool she used at the dais.
“She made some giant mission to prove that she can take away some other value that some council people were getting, and in her mind that was the council meal,” Amante said.
Amante and Davert also say Gavello was ordering staff to bring her a special chicken meal that was at an additional cost to the catering already provided. When the council said she couldn’t have her chicken anymore, they said, Gavello wanted revenge.
“When that stopped, that’s when she started bringing this up — so I think it’s a little vindictive on her part,” Davert said.
Gavello acknowledged that she couldn’t eat “half of the stuff” that was being brought in, and that she just wanted “plain chicken.”
And she’s tried to make compromises with the other council members that would make the meals cheaper, like offering to pick up sandwiches from Togo’s, Gavello said.
But, Gavello says, Huston wouldn’t make the change because he said “the boys like the food, they won’t give it up.”
Whether the council meals issue will end up on the agenda for the next City Council meeting, scheduled for Sept. 9, is still up in the air.
Amante says he doesn’t remember Gavello’s request at the last council meeting to have the issue placed on the agenda, but a review of the meeting tape available online shows that she did indeed make that request.
Nonetheless, Amante said he is more than happy to have the issue aired in public.
“Oh, Bring it on,” Amante said. “I’d be delighted to have a long public discussion about why she’s insulted, why she wanted the special meals, how she treated the taxpayers’ pocket when she first came on board — delighted!”
— ADAM ELMAHREK