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Media Coverage
Richmond Oks Phone Stipend
July 27, 1997



Sunday, July 27, 1997
Section: Contra Costa
Page: A29

RICHMOND - City Council members can now reach out and touch someone on the taxpayer's dime. 

In addition to an $850-a-month stipend and a $150-a-month mileage allowance, they can now receive $100 more a month for city-related phone and fax use if they want. 

The council approved the idea 5-0 last week. Three council members abstained. 

Some on the council said the added allowance was needed because of the high cost of communicating on city business. 

Others called it frivolous, considering city government's financial problems. 

The allowance will be given to council members who request it. So far, no one has. 

Councilman Alex Evans supported the measure, saying his City Council-related communications expenses are "enormous." 

Every day, he said, he gets anywhere from three to 15 calls on city business that he must return, plus at least one fax. 

The cost can run $75 a month, he said. Evans said he routinely spends $50 to supplement the mileage money he receives from the city. 

But he added, "I don't serve on the City Council to make money, and I don't." 

The city will soon ask voters to approve a $24 million tax measure to pay for infrastructure improvements. 

Some council members said considering this, the stipend was in bad taste and badly timed. 

"When we as elected officials are being scrutinized from the public in terms of how we use public funds and equipment, this is not the time to be passing such a resolution," Councilman John Marquez said. 

Marquez, who abstained from voting on the phone allowance, owns a cellular phone but chooses to pay the bill himself. 

"I'm willing to incur the cost," he said. "To me that's part of my job." 

Also abstaining were Councilman Tom Butt and Mayor Rosemary Corbin. The mayor receives a separate budget to spend on city business. 

City Council stipends vary at municipalities of comparable size around the East Bay. 

Reimbursements for phone are rare, either because the cities don't offer them or council members don't take them. 

Berkeley has the most generous stipend package. There, council members receive $32,840 a year, most of which is used to pay for a staff member. But they are allowed to use up to $7,840 for office supplies, travel and other expenses, said Ann-Marie Hogan, city auditor. 

In Walnut Creek, council members receive a $500 a month stipend, and can be reimbursed for phone, travel and lodging for city-related conferences, said Brad Rovanpera, public information officer. 

Rovanpera said council members rarely ask for phone reimbursements. 

Concord council members receive a $758 a month stipend and are eligible for mileage reimbursements, but like Walnut Creek council members rarely ask for them, city officials said.