Public paying for sister city dinner that 'happens' to be on Guerin's birthday
By: ADAM KAYE - Staff Writer
ENCINITAS -- Mayor Christy Guerin is hosting an invitation-only dinner party for a sister city delegation from Japan, with taxpayers footing much of the bill.
And the party on Saturday "also happens to be on (Guerin's) 50th birthday," the invitation states.
"It seems that this whole sister city celebration has had problems of not including the public," longtime resident Jane Cartmill said Monday. "It's a little bit autocratic."
Up to 50 guests ---- including Guerin's family members and city and school officials ---- are expected at the home of Fire Chief Mark Muir, a longtime ally of Guerin.
In recent weeks, some residents have criticized Encinitas' sister city program, calling it elitist and inaccessible to the residents who pay for it.
"There's nothing elitist about it," Guerin said Monday.
She said the program, which began in 1988, has touched the lives of many people in Encinitas and Amakusa City, Japan.
She noted that residents can meet the visiting Amakusa officials, who arrive Friday, at a Sunday picnic at Cottonwood Creek Park. The city is hosting the picnic to celebrate its incorporation 20 years ago.
Also on Friday, the public can attend a $10-a-plate dinner with the Japanese visitors at the Encinitas Community and Senior Center.
"This visit (by the Japanese) is probably the most public, community-oriented visit we've ever had," Guerin said.
Some residents and Councilwoman Maggie Houlihan, however, remain critical.
In June, the City Council approved $30,000 to spend on the city's 20th birthday celebration and on the sister city guests. Of that, $20,000 would pay for the 20th anniversary party and $10,000 would entertain the visitors, officials say.
Officials Monday could not say how much public money would be spent on Saturday's private party, but said it would pay for all the food on the menu.
"I'm looking for the authorization for expenditures such as a private party," Houlihan said. "I don't know where the authorization was for that money to come out of the anniversary (budget). I think it's very important that we have an easy-to-explain and defensible process for making expenditures."
When the council adopted the city's operating budget June 21, that approval included "$30,000 towards the Sister City/City's 20th Anniversary celebration," according to records from the meeting.
At the private party on Saturday, former Fire Chief Don Heiser is providing the catering "as a favor to me," Guerin said.
Heiser was among those from Encinitas who traveled to Japan in June, returning just days before he retired. Guerin also represented the city on that trip, the third to Japan she has taken at public expense.
Heiser on Monday said tri-tip steak with a red wine and butter sauce will be the main course at Saturday's party. Also on the menu is bow-tie pasta in a parsley garlic-butter sauce; sauteed zucchini and yellow-neck squash, stir-fried with steamed broccoli; green salad and French baguettes; melon balls; and for dessert, brownies with chocolate frosting.
Guerin said she and her husband would purchase alcohol for the party at their own expense. Birthday cake would not be paid for by the taxpayer, she said.
"We're not throwing Christy a $10,000 birthday party," City Manager Kerry Miller said Monday.
Guerin added that in years past, city officials have entertained their sister city counterparts at private dinners with the Encinitas mayor. This year's dinner would be cheaper because it is at a private home and not a restaurant, she said.
Some residents, however, remained critical of the expenditure.
"This is Christy diverting taxpayer money to throw a party for herself," said Barbara Cobb of the Cardiff Town Council.
The good news is that in a year the city will be 21 and can finally stop hassling me to buy it Boone's Farm and Swisher Sweets in the 7-11 parking lot on Friday nights.