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Irvine City Council members could take more control over their personal budgets next week as they discuss removing most of the restrictions on the $100,000 they each receive annually to fund their offices and activities.
The shift comes after Councilman Mike Carroll was accused of improperly spending his aide budget on advertising community events he hosted, which critics say gave him an advantage in the election using public tax dollars. Ultimately, the then council voted to retroactively approve the spending and to discuss changing the policy for the next fiscal year.
Originally established in 1984, the council members’ individual budgets were restricted purely to spending on “council executive assistant salaries … and associated expenses, office equipment and supplies,” with a caveat that any other spending had to be approved by a vote of the full council.
Under the proposed guidelines, as long as council members don’t exceed their total budgeted allowance, they can spend the funds on whatever they want if they get the request approved by the city manager’s office and the finance department, according to a city staff report.
The issue only comes in front of the council if a council member wants to spend more than their allotted budget.
Interim City Manager Marianna Marysheva said the proposed changes were put forward to bring the council’s budget in line with the way city departments handle their spending.
“For example, (departments) can transfer unused appropriations in their budget. If they have salary savings and they need consultants, or they need to add to a particular contract, they have that flexibility in the budget,” Marysheva said. “The same rules would apply to council office budgets if approved, that they would have the flexibility to use their total funding allocated within applicable rules and regulations.”
In addition to their staff funds, council members each receive $10,000 a year they can allocate to charities and nonprofits in the city, which will remain separate from the staff budget, according to Marysheva.
Last November, Carroll said he would be pushing hard for more freedom on how council members can spend their money in the next budget.
“Each council member of the city of Irvine gets approximately $100,000 a year, and council members should be able to spend that as they see fit to assist the 280,000 residents of Irvine,” Carroll said in a phone call with Voice of OC then.
Carroll, Councilman Anthony Kuo and Mayor Farrah Khan did not return requests for comment.
Councilwoman Tammy Kim said she was a big fan of the proposed system, outlining how the flexibility would let council members structure their priorities as they saw fit.
“We were elected because of our ability…to manage multi million dollar budgets. That’s what constituents expect a council member to be able to do,” Kim said. “There’s a certain amount of trust that goes into whoever you elect.”
When asked about resident concerns around Carroll’s spending, Kim said she didn’t view his spending as an abuse of power and it was an advantage of being an incumbent.
“There are city services you have to promote, so I get the flyers from (Assemblyman) Steven Choi all the time. And yes, one could argue it’s campaigning but is it really? You’ve got to be able to reach out to your constituents regarding what’s going on or what they have access to,” Kim said. “If that’s where a council member chooses to spend their money, that’s their right. I’m saying this as someone who ran against Mike.”
Councilman Larry Agran said while he supports the existence of the council aide program, he wants to be sure there’s enough oversight for where the money is going.
“My mind is open on the subject, as far as how these reforms might work out in practice,” Agran said. “I would have to think about it a little bit.”
The council will vote on the new policy at its 4 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, which can be viewed here.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.