John Cruz lives in San Clemente, but his job is either a long freeway drive away in downtown Los Angeles or, mostly, a plane trip away in Sacramento. That is because Cruz is the appointments secretary for Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. The LA Times caught Cruz's hand in the state taxpayer cookie jar in the Sunday piece "California Paid for Top Officials' Free Rides."
Cruz, who earns $133,728 a year to head the staff charged with scrutinizing candidates for California's many boards and commissions, has charged taxpayers for his flights and for hotel bills of up to $382 a night on regular trips between his home and Sacramento, according to reporter Michael Rothford's examination of state disclosure records. Cruz is not alone is abusing his travel privileges.
Over the last two years, as California has slashed services and scrambled to pay bills, top administration officials have made free use of government expense accounts with little oversight and, in some cases, no documentation, The Times has found.
Together, they have spent tens of thousands of dollars on state-funded trips between Sacramento and the areas where they live, justifying the travel as necessary for state business. Some built weekend trips around one short meeting, and some charged the state to attend events with no apparent connection to their jobs.
Often their expense reports were approved by subordinates. Many of the costs were incurred after the governor issued an executive order a year ago that state agencies avoid all nonessential travel due to California's fiscal emergency.
The state has picked up the tab for Cruz's hotel stays in Sacramento, reports Rothford, who does get an explanation from Cruz: "As the state's chief headhunter, I'm out visiting with folks, interviewing folks, making public speeches. If I lived here [in Sacramento], I'd be traveling half the time anyway."
The Times reports: Cruz has spent as much as $4,196 traveling in one month; taxpayers have reimbursed him for hotel bills more than four times as high as the allowable state rate of $84 after he stayed two nights at the Hyatt in Sacramento for $383 each; and he did not obtain the required prior permission to pay that much.
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Courageously, Cruz blamed a former assistant for mistakes on his expense reports. But the Times also discovered Cruz sought and obtained reimbursement for gas mileage to drive regularly from San Clemente to the governor's LA office, even though employees are not supposed to be reimbursed for gas on trips between their home and office. Cruz blamed that on his own ignorance of state regulations.
Hopefully, the 1975 Cal State Fullerton business administration grad's ignorance of state regulations did not apply to those he previously oversaw as a commissioner on the California Gambling Control Commission. Or as a LAWYER: Cruz founded the Daehnke & Cruz firm, co-founded the Hispanic 100 and belonged to the Orange County Hispanic Bar Association, the Orange County Sheriff's Department Technical Reserve Program and the Santa Ana Education Foundation Board of Directors.
The Weekly's R. Scott Moxley previously blogged here about a dust-up concerning Lynn Daucher's travel after Schwarzenegger tabbed the former Fullerton-area assemblywoman tl lead California's Department of Aging.
Cruz, like Daucher, is a Republican.