When the unpaid Marana Town Council voted unanimously Oct. 1 to pay future council members and at least four current council members a salary beginning in July, there was very little discussion of the topic from the dais or among the 15 or so citizens attending the meeting.
There was absolutely no discussion of the more than $22,800 that some council members had already received from taxpayers in the form of town credit card purchases, meals, travel and cell phones in the last 13 months.
The majority of those individual reimbursements and services were incurred by a minority of the council. Marana Mayor Bobby Sutton Jr., who spearheaded the effort to have the council paid, accounted for more than half the total spending, having received more than $11,600 in reimbursements and service in a little more than a year.
Sutton's perks included air fare to Las Vegas, taking himself, his wife and three children to a mayor's conference in Washington D.C., and staying in some of the finest hotels while traveling, according to town records.
Marana Finance Director Roy Cuaron said the trip to Las Vegas was taken with Marana Police Chief David R. Smith for a seminar on community policing, and that Sutton "partially reimbursed" some of the town's cost for his family's trip to Washington, D.C.
Sutton did not return calls seeking comment, but said at the Oct. 1 meeting that he knew he would "take some political flack" for advocating the salaries.
On the other end of the spectrum, Councilmember Herb Kai has not used his town-issued credit card, asked for a town cell phone or submitted any requests for reimbursements during the same period, records show.
The pay plan approved by the council will cost $65,400 annually, and will pay the mayor $11,400 and six council members $9,000 annually in addition to the perks and services they receive from the mayor and council's budget.
The budget has $29,275 earmarked for council spending this fiscal year.
Marana Human Resources Director Jane Howell said the new pay plan was structured to go into effect in July, after the council election scheduled for March has been decided.
The mayoral post held by Sutton and two council seats now held by Councilmembers Jim Blake and Ed Honea expire next year and are to be filled during the March elections.
Councilmembers Patti Comerford, Tim Escobedo, Kai, and Carol McGorray, who all voted in favor of the salary plan, are not up for reelection until 2004.
All four candidates not facing voters next year ran unopposed in the last election.
McGorray, who has also not used her town credit card, but who has received $988 in mileage reimbursements and cell phone benefits since August 2001, said she did not believe there was any conflict of interest in voting herself a salary."I'm comfortable with it. It's in the process that this will go to other people at some point in time, there will be other people up for re-election, so I don't think it's a problem," McGorray said.
Kai, a successful businessman, pecan farmer and landowner, also said he was comfortable with his vote, but had been unclear at the time that he was voting himself a salary.
"I'm not sure if it applies to me. It kind of slipped my mind, the election cycle and all that. But there's a lot of time we put in and it's important that we get some of that covered," Kai said.
Marana Town Manager Mike Hein said the pay plan was formulated from information gathered from the Arizona League of Cities and Towns that showed most jurisdictions of Marana's size paid their councils.
The plan was modeled after one formulated by an Oro Valley citizens committee formed in 1999 to examine paying it's town council, Hein said, but Marana did not form its own citizen's committee and he referred further questions to Sutton.
"It's clear the Mayor feels this is the right thing for the community," Hein said.
The Marana council members' individual spending over the last 13 months showed a vast discrepancy in habits, according to financial reports obtained from the town.
Other expenses by Sutton, an executive sales manager for Qwest Dex, included:
Four nights at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix at $280 per night.
Stays at the Capitol Hilton in Washington D.C., a $445 charge from the Hilton Hotel in New York City and $560 in charges from the Four Season's Hotel in Las Vegas.
Restaurant and bar charges that included The French Quarter, Sakura and the Metropolitan Grill in Tucson.
A charge on his town credit card bill for $44 at a Quick Mart convenience store.
Following Sutton for the highest amount spent was Escobedo, whose cell phone bill of $2,009 since August 2001 was almost four times that of the next highest phone bill of $542 incurred by Honea. Only Escobedo, who works as a manager at a Marana plant nursery, Honea and McGorray use town cell phones.
Escobedo's total expenses for the period ran to $3,747 and included:
$160 at the El Balcon de la Rocha restaurant in Nogales Mexico.
$646 at the Hyatt Hotel in Albuquerque.
$21 at Famous Sam's in Tucson.
$14 at a U-Haul business in Tucson.
Following Escobedo, the next highest spender was Blake, who cost the town $2,556 in 13 months. Blake, who is retired, noted expenses that included:
Eight trips to the Cracker Barrel Res-taurant in Marana.
$76 at the Rio Rico Resort
$160 to the Super 8 Motel in Nogales, Ariz.
Following Blake was Comerford, who is also Blake's daughter, and who in-curred $2,389 in charges that include:
Air fare to Jacksonville, Fla. for a conference, where she spent $351 at the Adams Mark Hotel and $13 at Legend's Sports Bar.
$160 at the Super 8 Motel in Nogales, Ariz. at the same time as Blake.
$654 in mileage reimbursements.
McGorray, who works as a receptionist for the Marana Unified School District and lives at Dove Mountain, filed for $988 in mileage reimbursements and incurred cell phone costs of $305. She does not use a town credit card, Cuaron said.
Likewise, Honea also does not avail himself of a credit card. In addition to his $542 in cell phone costs, Honea has only asked to be reimbursed $54 for mileage. He works as a contractor for the U.S. Postal Service.