Government / Politics

Hollister Councilwoman Spencer responds to accusations of unauthorized trip

Members argue over protocols for travel to Washington, D.C.

Hollister City Councilwoman Honor Spencer responded at the June 15 council meeting to accusations made by Councilman Rolan Resendiz and Mayor Ignacio Velazquez at the June 11 meeting after she reported that she had gone $522 over her budget on a trip to Washington, D.C., for a National League of Cities conference.

Spencer had already reimbursed the city the $522, but Resendiz and Velazquez insisted the amount owed was closer to $4,000. Interim City Manager Brett Miller told BenitoLink on June 22 that he was still reviewing city policy to determine how much, if any, Spencer owed, and if so, how soon she would be required to pay it back. He said the total amount spent on the trip was $5,221, minus Spencer’s reimbursement of $522. He also said City Attorney Jason Epperson would determine who approved the trip and how much Spencer may have to pay back to the city. Epperson did not respond to repeated BenitoLink requests for comments.

Velazquez and Resendiz wanted to know who authorized the trip and why Spencer did not report on it after she returned. Resendiz also ordered staff to itemize the details of Spencer’s expenditures. 

On June 15, Spencer read a lengthy response, part of which covered the same points she made at the previous meeting about returning March 12, as the city was then focused on COVID-19, and that she did not have a chance to immediately report back to the council about her trip.

She said the trip was approved in January, and it wasn’t until June 9 when she received the budget that she realized she had gone over her travel budget, which is $2,500 annually.

“It was not my intention to go over budget, however, Ignacio Velazquez and Rolan Resendiz are angered by the fact that they were not informed of my trip,” she said on June 15. “Ignacio states that I never reported about this trip. However, Rolan stated that ‘I do recall you did take a trip. You did come back and tell us about your trip in your informational report.’ The meeting I made my report was on March 16.”

According to the minutes of the March 16 meeting, Spencer did report that she had attended the National League of Cities conference March 7-12 in Washington, D.C., where she “learned a lot about homeless issues, met congress members and senators, and learned about upcoming senate and house bills.” She added that she would be working on applying for federal grants for the city of Hollister.

Spencer said Resendiz’s accusation that she took a friend with her on the trip was false and she asked the mayor to reprimand him for making a false accusation against her. She said he did not reprimand Resendiz.

“To be treated by these two as if I’m some kind of criminal shows me how much disdain they have for me,” she said. “This is why this council cannot work together.”

She said she knew the community was tired of the council’s pettiness and childish behavior.

“It’s my fault,” she said. “I’ve allowed them to draw me into their drama and suck the life out of me.”

When Velazquez started to respond from his remote location, Councilwoman Carol Lenoir said, “Oh, we’re going to be lectured now.”

The mayor said that the council has protocols it must follow concerning trips. 

“They’re pretty fair,” he said. “We’ve allowed $2,500 per council member per year to attend any conference put together by the League of California Cities in California.”

He said council members cannot decide on their own to take trips outside the state. Any meeting outside the state, he said, the council member had to get permission before attending in order to be reimbursed. They could, he said, go to out-of-state meetings “on their own dime.”

“This trip cost nearly $4,000,” Velazquez claimed. “No authorization was given by the City Council, as is the rule.”

As he continued, apparently unaware that Spencer and Lenoir were talking back and forth over him, Spencer asked Lenoir, “Is there a rule?” Lenoir nodded “yes.”

According to the city’s code of ethics, the following events are authorized:

  • League of California Cities meetings and those of its committees or departments
  • Committees or assignments to which the City Council by motion or resolution has appointed a City Council Member
  • Educational conferences or seminars which will assist the council member in carrying out his/her duties, including, but not limited to ethics training required by Government Code Section 53234
  • Local civic meetings or seminars which accrue to the benefit of the city (i. e. Chamber of Commerce meetings)
  • Attendance at meetings when requested by the mayor or city manager to officially represent the city before a federal, state, local or other governmental body
  • All other travel, conference and meeting reimbursements that are not listed above must be approved by the City Council, in a public meeting, before the expense is incurred.

The mayor went on, “You feel you’re being attacked, but you’re not.” 

Spencer said to Lenoir, Then why wasn’t I told about this when I applied for this?” 

“You had no authorization and you went way over your budget,” Velazquez continued.

She said as he went on, “I have to listen to this?” 

Velasquez continued, “That’s why I was very surprised when I learned this trip took place.”

Lenoir quipped, “I knew about it.”

Spencer asked Lenoir if she was saying she knew about the rule or the trip. Lenoir said she knew about the conference. 

The mayor kept telling the two council members who had already tuned him out, “pay back the $4,000 and we move on, and hopefully we learn something from the trip. So, please don’t take it personally.”

In response, Spencer blasted back, “You know, Ignacio, you’re so right. You’re so holier than thou.” 

Lenoir tried to shush Spencer, while she said to the mayor, “Because you always follow the protocols. You use the protocols when it’s convenient for you.”

Then Spencer said, “Your friend Resendiz accused me of going to have fun.” 

Lenoir added, “There was nobody with her, so can you explain that allegation?”

When Resendiz had a chance to join in, he did not answer the question but said that it was only after Spencer reported she went over budget that he requested a detailed itemization of her expenditures. He said while reading the report he noticed her hotel room was not included because it was still pending and amounted to approximately $1,700. He said, therefore, her statement was not accurate.

“The councilwoman is in breach of it [protocol] and she should pay back the entire amount of her trip to Washington, D.C.,” he said. “It’s not an ‘I gotcha’ moment, as Spencer described it earlier, and it’s not personal. If this would have been me, you’d have your campaign manager attacking me every single week.” Resendiz told BenitoLink later he was referring to Elia Salinas, who attends most council meetings and is outspoken on many issues. However, Salinas told BenitoLink she is not anyone’s campaign manager. 

After his sarcastic comment, Resendiz said, “There’s no need for the drama. Let’s put this behind us. It could have been an honest mistake, but own up to it.”

Spencer responded, “You’re right, Rolan, but when you say I have my friends suing—” 

When Velazquez tried to cut her off, she insisted, “No no no, I’m going to say something. You need to zip it, buddy.”

Lenoir advised her, “Let him say what he wants, and you can rebut it.”

But Spencer said, “No, you can’t.” 

Then Velazquez said Resendiz still had the floor and Resendiz responded, “We all knew we were going to have this conversation. I don’t want to go back and forth. You say your piece; I say my piece and let’s move on. That’s where the drama ends.”

Spencer told BenitoLink later that even though she could not find an email she claimed to have sent about the conference in Washington, D.C., all three knew she was interested and that she was going. She said the protocol states that permission can come from either the mayor or mayor pro tempore.

“I am the mayor pro tem,” she said.

Regarding the funds, Spencer told BenitoLink, “Their math is off. I was told on Tuesday, June 8, that I went over my budget by $522, and I paid that back to the city. I have asked if I owe more and I have not been told that I do. It is really amazing to me that the mayor and Rolan are so concerned about this, but no mentions of a lawsuit naming Rolan Resendiz for harassment and threats that may cost our community $250,000.”

Spencer was referring to two complaints, not lawsuits, against Resendiz made by Irma Gonzalez, each for $250,000, which the council denied.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a BenitoLink reporter and an author. He has many years experience as a freelance photojournalist, copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer who has worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and underwent graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John has worked as a script doctor and his own script, God's Club, was released as a motion picture in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime that are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: johnchadwell@benitolink.com.