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Cerritos Taxpayers Pick Up $5,000 Dinner Tab for Area Elected Officials

By Brian Hews and Brian Hews

Document obtained through a public records request by Hews Media Group – Community News showed that over 80 elected city and county officials from throughout Southern California gathered last month at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts Center to dine on a lavish dinner catered by one of the most exclusive private caterers in Orange County at tables adorned with fine white linens, fresh cut hydrangeas and cloth covered chairs, and the taxpayers of Cerritos picked up the entire tab.

Under the California Public Records Request Act, HMG-CN obtained over 30 emails that detailed how Cerritos city staff members spent time, during regular business hours, planning the dinner, all the way down to preparing comments for current Mayor Bruce Barrows who addressed the group.

“Every time Cerritos hosts an event for the California Contract Cities Association, everyone knows that it is going to be nothing but first class, and this dinner was no exception,” a mayor from a nearby city who attended the event said in an interview.

The featured speakers for the dinner were Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe, and Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.

Barrows greeted the guests during the evenings remarks by saying “we’re pleased that the California Contract Cities Association has chosen to hold tonight’s Board of Director’s meeting in Cerritos.”

Attending from the Cerritos City Council included Mayor Pro-Tem Mark Pulido, City Councilwoman Carol Chen and Councilman Joseph Cho.  Councilman George Ray turned down the invitation at the last minute due to an outside personal business meeting.

In addition, Assistant City Manager Kathy Matsumoto also attended the event and played an active role in finalizing many of the details of the dinner, again during business hours at Cerritos City Hall.

The guest list also included Pam Mendoza, Executive Secretary to Gallucci, as well as Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, and Sheriff’s Lt. Harpham.
“While we are all facing budgetary challenges, we are also grappling with issues resulting from the public safety realignment,” Barrows said in his comments.  Barrows prepared comments were written by staff members who work in the city’s public information and communications office.

City staff officials also prepared a visual “power point” presentation that was seen on a large screen during the dinner that touted the many well-known landmarks in Cerritos including the Auto Square, the Los Cerritos Center, the Cerritos Towne Center and the Cerritos Library.

Several paid city staff members who work at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts Center were used in the planning of the event, including Dianne Cheney who is the Director of the theater, city emails show.

An email on June 26 from Pam Mendoza, and City Manager Staff Members Debbie Hitomi and Yvette Villalobos, with a copy going to Matsumoto, Mendoza states “the expenses for the California Contract Cities dinner that the City hosted on June 18 will go to account 111-63410.”

“The final invoiced received from Patina (the caterer) shows a zero balance, payment of the deposit and final balance was paid using the city’s Calcard.  Copies of these invoices have been placed in the calcard book,” Mendoza writes.

Mendoza also alerts Hitomi, and Villalobos in the same email “when the Rainbows (floral and centerpiece company) invoice arrives, please be sure to use this account for payment or to code the receipt it was put on a Calcard.  I would also like a copy of the Rainbows information for my event file.”

A copy of all of the emails obtained by HMG-CN regarding the coordination and payments for the event can be viewed here.

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