Friday, November 4, 2011

Worst expenditure award goes to…

We’ve all seen the negative headlines in recent years. Newspaper chains close community papers, or large TV news networks slash jobs.

As a journalist, it’s worrisome because these reporters and editors are often the ones watching the watchers – they’re the journalists who hold our congressmen, powerful appointees, police departments, agencies and others accountable.

That’s why I enjoy reading a story like I did last week, where a California reporter uncovered wasteful spending even as one city slashes employees and limits bonuses.

(Special words of advice to politicians, leaders, and other stewards of public dollars: If you spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on any party, you’re begging to be mocked.)

During one of the worst recessions in United States history, the port spent $200,000 entertaining port leaders from around the world at the International Association of Ports and Harbors convention in South Korea earlier this year.

The bill included $12,000 for wine, nearly $4,000 for miniature Oscar awards handed out to all in attendance, and $41,000 to fly in dancers from California.

Port Executive Director Geraldine Knatz said the party was intended to give a Hollywood theme and preview a 2013 convention that will be held in Los Angeles.

CBS Los Angeles skewered Knatz over the lavish party, and Knatz’s own $13,000 business class airfare.

Knatz, CBS Los Angeles pointed out, made $307,000 in 2010 – more than the Los Angeles Mayor and more than the California governor. The station noted that Los Angeles has slashed jobs.

These facts were obtained after the TV station filed several requests under California freedom of information law.

On a side note, Land Line Magazine has its own FOI binder, complete with requirements of many states and sample FOI request letters. You’d be surprised at the sheer number of times we’re required to file a request under federal or state FOI laws because authorities aren’t willing to give up information without a formal FOI request.

Back to L.A.

The 2013 port convention may bring in as much as $4 million in revenues, some reports say. 

I’m hopeful that hardworking journalists in Los Angeles will track that party’s expenditures as they did this year.