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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

City Staff Fundraising without Express Council Approval Stopped

BY BILL KOENEKER


Malibu Knolls resident Steve Uhring returned to Malibu City Council chambers this week, saying he was still looking for an answer to his question about what city council members thought about the staff raising funds without their approval.
Uhring had come to the city council’s previous session and said he had heard staff fundraising was underway.
Uhring emphasized he did not think anybody was on the take and was quick to point out he thought everybody on the staff and city council was beyond reproach, but thought the fundraising by municipal employees was a bad idea.
Council members were mum on the subject and had turned to the city manager for an explanation.
Uhring said this week he wanted to hear from the council.
“This is a train wreck waiting to happen,” said Uhring two weeks ago. He said no matter how honest everyone in the Malibu government is now, down the road there could always be the possibility of temptation or abuse.
“I’ll ask again, ‘Are the city staff allowed to raise funds without city council approval?” he said.
Councilmember Lou La Monte said there is nothing that allows nor prohibits the city manager from soliciting monies.
He said there was no meeting where the city council took any kind of action on the matter.
Mayor Jefferson Wagner said he thought Uhring raised a good point. “We have no direction here. We are adrift,” he said.
Whereupon City Manager Jim Thorsen spoke up. “I have to agree with Mr. Uhring. It is not the role of the staff to raise funds.”
The city manager said the issue came about after a group of stakeholders involved in the Civic Center septic prohibition wanted to know how additional funding could come about for finishing some groundwater studies. “We did not receive any funds from them,” Thorsen said, but acknowledged there was a donation from the Malibu Knolls homeowners association. “We will be happy to return it,” he said. “We will get city council approval in the future.”
At the previous meeting, it was just after Malibu Knolls homeowner Sally Benjamin reported to the city council that the Malibu Knolls Homeowners Association was donating $2500 sought by city staffer Craig George for a municipal project that eyebrows were raised.
At that time, council members turned to Thorsen for an answer. He spoke briefly about the studies and stakeholders. “It is completely voluntary,” he said.
The city manager added the money was put into a specially designated fund.
That sufficed for council members, who asked no further questions. nor was the city attorney questioned about the practice.

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