News

Fergusson leads Menlo Park council in travel expenses

Spends $12,476 during two terms

Click on charts to enlarge.

Menlo Park's council members fall into two camps -- no, not development vs. no-growth -- more like, thrifty vs. profligate when it comes to spending city funds on trips related to city business.

Out of 10 council members who served at any time since 2004, Kelly Fergusson, who was elected to the council that year, holds the record for most travel expenses, even before last week's now infamous trip to Washington, D.C., to visit with locally based politicians and stay in a $400-per-night hotel.

According to city documents obtained by the Almanac through a public records request, Ms. Fergusson has filed 60 requests, for a total of $12,476.34, since 2004. The only other current council member serving since December 2004 is Andy Cohen, whose total spending was $1,815.13. Mr. Cohen's total represents 22 requests.

That's an average of $1,996 per year of spending for Ms. Fergusson, and an average of $290 per year for Mr. Cohen.

Ms. Fergusson's tab includes two daytrip tours of water infrastructure that each cost close to $600; a $744.79 airplane ticket to Fresno; a Seattle conference; and at least two dozen regional dinner meetings.

She serves on the Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation Agency, making the tours of water infrastructure relevant to council business.

Three other council members approached her record -- but only in number of requests. Nicolas Jellins filed 25, for a total of $3,216.29 during the three relevant years; Heyward Robinson, with 23 requests that added up to $5,511.81 during four years in office; and John Boyle, who during his four years in office asked for 24 reimbursements and received approximately $1,711, although he was the only council member to get reimbursed for Blackberry accessories.

Most council members, upon taking a turn as mayor, saw their travel expenses rise, with the exception of Rich Cline, who to date has filed only six reimbursement requests totaling $766, and who, despite being on his second term as mayor, has resisted the urge to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors, a three-day event that cost Menlo Park $2,057.77 for Ms. Fergusson to attend in 2007 and $3,512.94 for Mr. Robinson in 2009 -- a price tag that included a $1,229 plane ticket to D.C.

Wondering whether Menlo Park is subject to a double standard, since travel by other local councils such as Palo Alto apparently doesn't generate as much consternation, Mr. Robinson said in an e-mail that a cheaper plane ticket wasn't available since he waited to confirm the flights until after he became mayor; he added that he was able to stay with friends for free instead of paying $600 per night for a hotel room.

"While it's certainly appropriate for the public and the press to scrutinize expenses by their elected officials, I don't think that the importance of face-to-face meetings is being sufficiently appreciated," said Mr. Robinson, who left the council last December. "It's well known that if you want to influence federal funding and policy, you need to travel to Washington."

Mayor Cline said that while big conferences are great, they don't do much for Menlo Park. "Our issues are very parochial in many ways," he said. "There is a ton of info online -- lots of ways to follow other cities to learn how they render decisions and lots of folks to talk with to exchange ideas. I have never been an advocate of conferences and I rarely see it worth the expensive costs of investment."

However, Ms. Fergusson said those conferences allow her "to bring back best practices throughout the nation." Other events, such as Progress Seminars in Monterey, she said, are "educational about regional issues. I've gone almost every year on my own dime and only billed the city for two."

How about the council newcomers? Peter Ohtaki has spent $1,036.65 so far on one voluntary training event for newly elected mayors and council members in Sacramento.

Vice Mayor Kirsten Keith attended the same "new council member" event, but has also filed five additional expense reports, tying her with Mr. Cline for number of requests even though she's been on the council for only four months. With total reimbursements of $1,227.36, however, she pushed ahead in the cost category as compared with the mayor's $766 during his four-and-a-quarter-year tenure. Highlights: the Mount Olive Annual Crab Feed ($40); the San Mateo County/Silicon Valley Convention and Visitors Bureau annual meeting ($65), and a State of the Valley conference ($150).

City Manager Glen Rojas explained the council travel policy: A $10,000 fund covers travel costs for all five council members as part of the annual city budget. They can either ask the city to pay in advance, or request reimbursement. When the trip involves traveling out of state, the reimbursement must be approved, before or after the fact, by the council during a regular meeting.

He said the council as a whole usually doesn't spend the full $10,000; any leftover money returns to the general fund.

Ms. Fergusson sounded irritated when the Almanac asked her about the expenses, and refused to answer questions about the D.C. trip, saying an expense report would be coming shortly.

"It doesn't seem like you cover actual news anymore," she said.

Comments

Posted by Max Crittenden, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Mar 15, 2011 at 12:27 pm

The author of this story appears to be unaware that "spendthrift" and "profligate" are not at all opposites but mean almost exactly the same thing.


Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 15, 2011 at 12:36 pm

That should have been thrifty. Thanks for pointing out the error.


Posted by Scholar, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 15, 2011 at 1:03 pm

This looks like too much for her expenses given all the circumstances and comparisons. Glad to see it reported and exposed in the news here!


Posted by "profligate" ?, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 15, 2011 at 1:26 pm

No Fergusson fan here, don't even follow MP that close, but....

Twelve grand over 7 years.

Profligate? Seriously? Why not get on the rest of them to work HARDER?

All info in the light of day is good, but seriously, how can anyone be offended that their elected representative is out working for them?

Hate her for her politics, perhaps, but this isn't news. I'd like my pols working harder, traveling, investigating, finding opportunities for my town.

imho.


Posted by "B", a resident of another community
on Mar 15, 2011 at 3:18 pm

For many months now I've been reading all of the complaints and dissatisfaction about Kelly Fergusson and her multitude of questionable behaviors including Brown Act violations, conflicts of interest, providing inconsistent and often contradictory versions of events when asked to explain, outright refusals to explain, that are if not illegal, then definitely unethical. The City Counsel represents the citizens of Menlo Park, and are therefore accountable to the citizens of Menlo Park. Rather than simply continue to vent about your frustrations, disgust, dissatisfactions, etc., are you all willing to take the necessary steps to make change happen? I know that Peter Carpenter certainly was proactive in attempting to do so with her Brown Act violation. What about the rest of you? Do you attend the weekly council meetings and raise these issues there in the same way that you go on about them here? If people are not held accountable for their behaviors then they don't have to BE accountable. Children learn this from a very early age. When a child misbehaves and the parent starts "counting" to 3, how many children stop the behavior BEFORE the parent reaches "3"? You're words are only as good as your willingness to follow through. If you don't want her to be your representative, do something to make that change happen.


Posted by Bob, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 15, 2011 at 5:17 pm

Fergusson said - "It doesn't seem like you cover actual news anymore..."
Kelly, you're the best thing that ever happened for local news papers.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 15, 2011 at 7:08 pm

Earth to Kelly, your unethical behavior IS news. The fact you don't think it is news is truly disturbing.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 15, 2011 at 7:10 pm

I still have no idea how a city with such smart citizens elects someone like Ms. Fergusson.

You get the kind of governance you deserve.


Posted by Mark, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 15, 2011 at 10:25 pm

C'mon people, this isn't a story. It's a hit piece on Kelly Fergussen with little basis in an issue. If you look at her annual spend, it's very reasonable and not out of line with others. The author is trying to drum up a vendetta against her and make a story where there isn't one. Talk about petty, small town antics.

I'm no fan of Kelly's (have always voted against her), and the $400/night hotel was stupid. But saying she spent the most because she's been there the longest, Really??

I must agree with Kelly's comment -- go find some real news. Maybe even some positive news.


Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 16, 2011 at 6:49 am

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Mark - This is not a hit piece. You obviously did not read the story. Fergusson spends far more PER YEAR than any other council person.

Has she created more value than any other council member by her travels?


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 16, 2011 at 6:59 am

Ms. Fergusson's spending seems to have a pattern - she spends a lot of official time and money promoting herself.

I'm guessing her recent trip to Washington netted her some good photos of her meeting with representatives... which she will use in her next political campaign.


Posted by looking on, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 16, 2011 at 9:37 am

POGO

You hit the "bullseye".It is all self promotion -- that's why she got into trouble with the Brown Act.

Usually Gibboney doesn't take such a hard stand, but his editorial was pretty hard hitting.

I just viewed the video of her report at council in the other thread, and quite frankly I don't know what, if anything, she accomplished.


Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 17, 2011 at 6:59 am

It could be worse. We could have Gail Slocum sitting on the Dais instead of Kelly Fergusson.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:03 am

I also wonder how many actual representatives Ms. Fergusson met (as opposed to staffers)?

If Ms. Fergusson met with staffers, she could have accomplished the same thing by meeting their local counterparts at their Bay Area offices.


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:12 am

Like Looking on I, too, viewed the video of her trip report. My take on shat she accomplished is as follows.
• Got a copy of a well prepared booklet brought by the Palo Alto
representative, and got to tell the staffers she met with, "me too"
(except for electrification 'cause PA doesn't want that).
• Got to shake hands with 5 (count'em FIVE) real members of congress.
Actually only met with 1 (count'em ONE)-Anna
• Would have gotten a sense of where the 11 on her agenda stood on HSR,
but didn't think to ask that question when she met with their staff.
• Did get Glen Rojas to take some of the heat regarding why the trip
wasn't properly vetted with the rest of council in advance.
$1400 well spent.........


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:37 am

So let me get this straight... Ms. Fergusson ONLY met with Anna Eshoo?

Ms. Fergusson could easily meet Anna right in Menlo Park during Congressional recesses. There's another recess coming up next week and we see Anna at our local restaurants all the time.

Maybe Ms. Fergusson should start hanging out at better places.


Posted by WhoRUpeople, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2011 at 9:47 am

POGO-To be fair and open with regard to my previous post. I prefaced it by saying it "was my take on what she accomplished". In the video, when pressed by a fellow council member on who she met with, she dwelt on the fact that she spent 45 minutes with Anna. She did allude to another meeting with an actual office holder, but without much detail and I don't remember his name. She did say she got to meet and shake hands with 5 of the actual incumbants "in the hall way". So, she may have met with more, but my take away was that the actual discussions took place with staffers, except for Anna. Just didn't want Truth to think I was "hitting below the belt" again.


Posted by POGO, a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 17, 2011 at 10:27 am

Thank you for the clarification, WhoR. Yes, we certainly don't want truth to accuse us of being unfair...

I will admit that I didn't watch Ms. Fergusson on video; it is just too painful. Representative Eshoo deserves combat pay if she really spent 45 minutes with her!


Posted by UN Observer, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Mar 17, 2011 at 12:41 pm

For Ms. Fergusson to subject Ms. Eshoo to that cruel and inhumane punishment of listening to her incoherent and rambling speech constitutes a violation of the Geneva Conventions and the Helsinki Accords on Human Rights.


Posted by City Manager, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Why doesn't the Almanac look into Glen Rojas' travel and reimbursements?


Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 17, 2011 at 6:49 pm

I would love to know about Rojas' reimbursements!


Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Fellow citizens - the Almanac doesn't need to do an article on the City Manager's reimbursements - that information is included in every month's Council agenda packet whenever he receives a check. Look at the Council agenda packets - they are online. Go to the Council meetings. Submit a public records request. Get off your keyboard and do something.

The responsibilities of citizenship cannot be delegated to someone else.


Posted by truth, a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 18, 2011 at 8:33 am

yawn.


Posted by thanks to the Almanac, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Mar 18, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I very much appreciate the news services available today reflecting what our elected representatives do, and don't do. Please do not pay for Kelly's trip to DC. It was unnecessary and she has a bias, on HSR.


Posted by member, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 18, 2011 at 5:42 pm

The last item on MPCC's agenda for 4/5/11 is from Fergusson asking for reimbursement for city-related travel expenses. The audacity!


Posted by a reader, a resident of another community
on Mar 21, 2011 at 11:03 am

As an aside, Kelly has endorsed four or more candidates for county supervisor. Talk about not playing with a full deck.


Posted by peter carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Mar 21, 2011 at 11:05 am

peter carpenter is a registered user.

Leadership is the ability to make intelligent choices between alternatives.


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