Councilman Ken Lane spent four minutes of Monday's Ceres City Council meeting reacting to a Courier column published March 4 criticizing the council for spending taxpayers' money on meals.
Saying he has never used the council dais to respond to a Courier editorial, Lane made his comments during the "Reports" portion at the end of the meeting.
In his column, Courier editor Jeff Benziger questioned why the council was spending approximately $1,600 per year on meals when they were paid a stipend and given insurance. The column also quoted Councilwoman Linda Ryno as saying she did not partake of meals because she didn't feel it was right that tax money is used to feed her as a public official.
At times Lane sounded an angry tone as he looked at Benziger sitting at the press table on Monday.
The following is a transcript of Lane's remarks:
"I normally never would address anything like this from a dais ever would I do this. I don't think I've ever done this from the standpoint of being and sitting here, but, Jeff, you made a comment about us having dinner on the taxpayers' money. I do have to address that because the bottom line is staff has, you know, they come in and they're here. Staff stays over. They're away from their families, and you know, they need to eat something. I mean for crying out loud we were starting at 5:30 and then we went to 6, and that sort of thing. I certainly picking can appreciate staff sticking around to picking - excuse me, picking, I use that word a lot, don't mean to but I'd probably say something else if I didn't I didn't say because it really kind of - when I use that it kind of upsets me.
"Our staff has been recognizant of how we have spent money and this council has demonstrated how we have spent money over and over again. And this year we have been privileged to give money back to all of our employees because of where we stood years ago and letting, I think at that time, 22 employees go. To bring on the aspect of us having dinner - and you know what, we don't always do that. There's sometimes I don't show up for dinner. There's sometimes Councilman Durossette or Mayor Vierra or Councilmember Kline doesn't show up for dinner. I know Mrs. Ryno has been there for dinner but it's eating chicken. Pizza's not her thing. Alright, let me just say that because I appreciate how she feels about the way she eats. She's done an outstanding job, but for you to write that we're wasting money and that we're getting a stipend, that we picking should just pay for our own? I think that was kind of uncalled for.
"And I've never sat here from this dais ever and made a statement about a column that you've written but I'm going to tonight. You know my time might be short but I can tell you that my time on this council from all the years has been positive. We have taken our budget seriously as a team and for one person to make a comment she doesn't eat, I'm sorry, I take offense to that because she has ate. And I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the bashing that goes on. I'm tired of the fact that things change in this city. And, Jeff, you know what? You can write what you want but please write this: This council does not waste money. This council does not eat at every Study Session but staff does and they deserve to do so. Our stipend does not carry on a whole lot of money. Our insurance that we get is what it is. But I got to say Jeff - I'm directing this towards you because you wrote the article - please contact staff the next time you want to write something about what this council's doing over here in a conference room eating or staff's eating before you talk to one person. That's all I ask. You've always been great to this council, you've always been great to this city and we appreciate you for that very, very much. But please next time talk to our city manager before moving forward with your article and get the other side.
"Thank you. That's all I have to say."
In his column, Benziger predicted that the tenor of the council in response to his column would be: "I can hear the council members already. What's the big deal, Jeff? We work hard for the city, we are fiscally prudent with the city's money and we spend a lot of time serving the city and its citizens. Why do you begrudge us a free meal and water to keep is going so we can do business for the city?"