See the U.S.A. the D.C. Council Way!
A few weeks ago LL brought you the news that Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham spent $1,500 in public funds to travel to Liz Taylor's memorial service in Los Angeles last year. A review of nearly 500 more pages shows that while the purpose of Graham's trip might raise some eyebrows, he was a skinflint compared to one of his colleagues: Councilmember Vincent Orange has taken two taxpayer-funded trips to the City of Angels in the last two years, and neither has been cheap.
In June 2011, Orange accompanied Mayor Vince Gray on meet-and-greets with various movie business officials in an attempt to "attract more Hollywood businesses to D.C.," as Orange wrote on a reimbursement form he submitted to the D.C. Council's secretary. Orange's committee had oversight responsibilities over the District's Office of Motion Picture and TV Development at the time.
Despite finding a cheaper flight to L.A. than Graham had, Orange wound up spending $250 more on the two-day trip than Graham did when he went for Taylor's memorial. The reason: Receipts show that Orange's stay of two nights at Sofitel L.A. in Beverly Hills cost taxpayers $756.19. Orange's two-day car rental, which included a $35-a-day "vehicle upgrade" charge, cost $253.14. Graham, by contrast, stayed at a Mariott hotel that cost less than $160 a night and rented a car that only cost $41 a day. Graham did receive $177.50 in per diem expenses, though, which Orange did not.
Orange ramped up the spending in July 2012, when he returned to L.A. with aide Elizabeth Webster for a tour of Raleigh Studios. Orange and Webster's trip cost the city $4,200, including airfare, receipts show. The pair stayed three nights at the Mondrian Hotel, which bills itself as "one of the most sophisticated, modern and urban West Hollywood Hotels," costing taxpayers nearly $2,000 (the room rate was $291, plus $40 in taxes). Records show that Orange was paid $250 in per diem expenses for the trip, which he could have spent on food or his $200 bill at the hotel's "Skybar." Orange was also reimbursed nearly $500 for a three-day car rental, which included a $28-a-day upgrade and a $63.16 additional charge for returning the car without a full gas tank. Taxpayers also covered the $99 in parking fees Orange's hotel charged.
Orange and Webster also traveled to New York and back in a single day in October 2011 to meet with movie studio executives there. The cost for a pair of train tickets and parking: $780.
Orange did not return a request for comment. LL has also reached out to Council staff last month to find out what the rules are for official travel and has still not heard back. There seems to be little consistency when it comes to what councilmembers are reimbursed for. During their annual pilgrimage to the retail trade show in Las Vegas last May, the lodging choices of councilmembers varied widely.
Then-Councilmember Michael Brown stayed at the MGM Grand for $153 a night. Orange stayed at the Bellagio for $263 a night. Ward 7 Councilmember Yvette Alexander was reimbursed $1,731.52 for four nights at Vdara Hotel & Spa, or about $420 a night.
Then there's Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, whose chief of staff wrote a note to the Council secretary saying Evans' stay at the $499-a-night Wynn Hotel was the "most basic and least expensive room" at the "host hotel" where the retail store convention was being held. Keep in mind that in 2011, Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development Director Victor Hoskins and his staff backed out of staying at the Wynn when they found a much cheaper hotel on the Strip.
And finally, consider Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who was ordered by the Council secretary to pay the city back $248.93 for "room upgrades" and phone charges he made while staying at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas. Barry's $67.20-a-night room upgrade on an original $210 room charge still put him well below what some of his colleagues spent, so it's not clear why he was singled out to cover the extra costs. Barry's chief of staff, Joyce Clements-Smith, paid the reimbursement to the city for Barry's room upgrades and phone bill out of her her own personal checking account, records show.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery