Is Michele Martinez traveling again? Maybe she went golfing?
While the City of Santa Ana was experiencing a “public health and safety homeless crisis,” Santa Ana Councilwoman Michele Martinez was charging taxpayers for stays in five-star hotels in London and Milan, a party in Las Vegas, and dubious per diem payments for phantom meetings of the city’s housing authority.
A review of expense reports, travel records, and emails shows a shocking pattern of Michele Martinez living large at the public’s expense, raising questions whether the Councilwoman has violated government travel policies, state disclosure rules or state ethics laws.
$53,340 Trip to London and Milan
Martinez’s three nights in London were followed by three nights in Milan at NH Collection Milano President Hotel. The estimated cost to taxpayers for Martinez’s flights, hotels, and meals was $4,500.
It’s just one of the many perks Martinez has received as Santa Ana’s representative on regional boards and commissions. Organized by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), a multi-governmental agency tasked with solving regional issues, the summer trip to Europe cost taxpayers $53,340.
The European junket appears to have violated SCAG’s own travel policies. According to a May 5, 2016 report from SCAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata, “Per SCAG Travel Policy, foreign travel requires Regional Council approval.” However, a review of meeting minutes shows no evidence that the trip was approved by the Regional Council.
But London and Milan weren’t Martinez’s only taxpayer-funded trips in 2016. As a member of the Metropolitan Water District Board, Councilwoman Michele Martinez arranged two taxpayer-funded junkets, including one to Las Vegas.
$15,551 Trip to Las Vegas
Travel records obtained from the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California show Martinez arranged a taxpayer-funded trip for herself and nearly two dozen friends at a $15,551 cost to taxpayers. The previous year, Martinez arranged a trip for 32 people to tour the state water project at a $26,059 cost to taxpayers.
“I am certain the pairs I choose will be good roommates,” Martinez wrote in one email to water agency staff. “The good news is that I know almost everyone attending but one person.”
Martinez micro-managed every detail of the trip – right down to the snacks, which included “M&Ms, Snickers and Cookies.”
Although Martinez found time to pick out snacks on her taxpayer-funded trips, she couldn’t find time to attend the Metropolitan Water District’s meetings.
As Santa Ana’s representative on the regional water board, Michele Martinez skipped 35 meetings, including 14 meetings of the district’s important Finance Committee. Martinez showed up on-time for just a single meeting of the Water Planning and Stewardship meeting, which is responsible for drought planning and conservation. After months of absences and tardiness, Martinez’s colleagues voted to remove her from that Committee after serving for less than a year.
$3,000 Per Hour at Phantom Meetings
Santa Ana City Councilmembers, who are seeking a 700 percent raise next month, earn $125 per council meeting, health benefits, and a $500 monthly car allowance. Yet, Martinez and her colleagues on the city council have also found creative ways to boost their salaries with phantom housing authority meetings.
Michele Martinez and her colleagues have collected an additional $50 in per diem payments from the city’s Housing Authority. Most meetings have lasted less than 2 minutes. Some meetings lasted less than 30 seconds – providing councilmembers with the equivalent of $3,000 per hour for their work.
This year, the City of Santa Ana’s Housing Authority has met for 15 minutes – not per meeting, that’s the total time for the first 10 meetings of 2016. In the past six years, Michele Martinez has spent 3 hours and 40 minutes participating in Santa Ana Housing Authority meetings. That’s the cumulative total of meetings that Martinez has attended over the past 6 years.
Less than 4 hours. That’s how much time Martinez has spent on housing in the past 6 years. Since 2011, Martinez has attended 56 Santa Ana Housing Authority meetings that lasted 2 minutes or less. Only 6 meetings lasted more than 5 minutes. Martinez was absent from another 13 meetings.
At these phantom meetings, councilmembers have ignored the Housing Authority’s charter of finding solutions to the city’s affordable housing crisis. “We need to figure out how we permanently house people,” Martinez told the Orange County Register. Maybe she should have taken time to review her city’s annual housing plan.
- In 2011, the Santa Ana Housing Authority approved the annual housing plan at a 1-minute-long meeting.
- In 2012, the Santa Ana Housing Authority approved the annual housing plan at a 1-minute-long meeting.
- In 2013, the Santa Ana Housing Authority approved the annual housing plan at a 1-minute-long meeting.
- In 2014, the Santa Ana Housing Authority approved its annual report in low income housing at a 1-minute-long meeting.
- In 2015, the Santa Ana Housing Authority approved its 5-Year Housing Plan at a 1-minute-long meeting.
- In 2016, Martinez was absent at the meeting, where the Santa Ana Housing Authority reviewed its annual housing plan.
European junkets. Parties in Vegas. $3,000 per hour for phantom meetings. All billed to the taxpayer. Perhaps Michele Martinez is right about one thing: “We have a priority problem,” she told the Voice of OC.