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Menlo Park: Keith continues to lead council in reimbursement requests

Original post made on Dec 12, 2013

Turns out you can spend more taxpayer money attending local dinners than on a trip to Ireland: For the third time in a row, Kirsten Keith tops the list in reimbursement requests by Menlo Park council members, according to city records obtained by the Almanac.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, December 12, 2013, 9:14 AM

Comments (36)

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Posted by manipulation
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:14 am

There are a couple obvious errors with this story. First, taxpayer money was spent on the trip to Ireland, but the taxpayers of Galway footed the bills for Conneely and Ohtaki. Next, the story states that Keith tops reimbursement requests, for a 15 month period, for a third time in a row. This would add up to 45 months, but Keith has only been on council for exactly 3 years, which is only 36 months. Clearly, the Almanac has decided to repeat 3 months to game the chart.

The pie chart shows 3 months of requests from Furgusson and Cohen, with 12 months of requests from Mueller and Carlton, and 15 months of requests from Cline, Ohtaki and Keith. Clearly, Keith submitted more requests than Ohtaki or Cline, but Carlton may have submitted the most in requests for the past 12 months. This is a great example of manipulating data to mislead readers.


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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:31 am

$75 for the North Fair Oaks Community Festival Preview Party. North Fair Oaks is not part of the City of Menlo Park. That one should not have been reimbursed.


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Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:31 am

The requests for each council member were counted over the same 15-month period.


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Posted by say more
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:50 am

Sandy, was there a conscious decision to add three more month, in order to bump Keith to the top? If you use 12 months, Dec 2012 through Nov 2013, is Carlton on top or Keith?


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:59 am

Does it really matter who submitted the most requests, or spent the most money? I'm assuming all expense claims are subject to audit/review before being approved, so that would tell me the expenses were legitimate. Looked at another way, I would say the data demonstrates two important things about two of your council members. First, Rich Cline should be complimented for his position that he doesn't ask for reimbursement for anything (commendable) and second, Ms Kieth should be complimented for spending the most time representing and working for your city as evidenced by her participation. I know its more fun to throw rocks, but thats just another view.


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Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 12, 2013 at 11:10 am

No 'three months' were added. The story does not say 'for the third set of 15-month intervals'. I've collected the data three times; the first time was not over 15 months.

There is also no overlap of data. I asked for reimbursements beginning where my last request stopped, through November of this year. Starting in December would have missed 3 months of expenses that were not included in the previous story. The data is public record; anyone can request the information and do the analysis themselves.


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Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 12, 2013 at 11:47 am

One other point: Carlton's reimbursements began in November 2012, not December.


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Posted by Welcome
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Dec 12, 2013 at 12:43 pm

I am glad to see participation in the North Fair Oaks festival. It is time for either Menlo Park or Redwood city to incorporate this gem of affordable housing which could benefit from gentrification and positive code enforcement by a local municipality instead of the spread thin staff of count resources. Clean up the properties, tax base increases and so do services.


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Posted by Adina
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm

I am glad to see Council members participating in events in nearby places like North Fair Oaks and regional initiatives. In an area with a lot of small cities and agencies, it is really maddening when governments point fingers instead of working together to solve problems. Building relationships and working together to solve regional problems helps the city.


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Posted by Carolyn Clarke
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I am surprised to see the comments regarding the spending of taxpayer dollars on
1) Reimbursed expenses to City Council members and 2) City Staff Retreat expenses.

On the issue of reimbursed expenses to council members - Just running for City Council is a huge ordeal, and then the hours spent on council related work has a much bigger value than $640 per month. Although a volunteer position, unless council members are exceedingly wealthy and volunteer to do so, taxpayers should not expect council members to spend their personal cash on top of the hours of work they perform for the cost of attending meetings, conferences and events that are city related business.

Most employers reimburse employees and consultants for travel and other expenses in connection with company business. $2400 per month is roughly $200 per month on top of the $640 stipend. This is still under $1,000 per month. Other cities pay as much as $30,000/year to council members.

On the issue of City Staff Retreat - Employees are valuable and need to be respected and appreciated for the work they do. There would be no services if employees were to cease performing their duties for even one day! Employees of the City of Menlo Park have been challenged for several years now. Yes, maybe their performance has not been what it should be, but in order to have motivated staff in a healthy, non-hostile work environment, staff must have excellent leadership and a real purpose for best performance.

A RETREAT away from the "MENLO PARK FRAY" is a very important and well-deserved exercise. Yes, we have to be prudent and watchful of abuse and unwarranted spending, but we must create a sensible balance within our budgets that will get the best return on investment, and that includes the investment in staff, and city council members. About the amount spent for the event...why bother doing anything if you don't do it well...and doing it well in Menlo Park is "EXPENSIVE" like everything else.

VALUE for others is the key to a successful life...BE MORE THAN HUMAN!
MAY THE BLESSINGS AND MEANING OF CHRISTMAS TOUCH YOUR HEARTS TODAY, AND THROUGHOUT THE YEAR!


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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm

To Welcome
And if your gentrification etc takes place where do you suggest all those folks currently living in North Fair Oaks move to? After your gentrification they would no longer be able to afford living there.

Keith wasn't there to push for annexing the area. She was there to improve her chances for the next County Supervisors election. Not for any benefit to Menlo Park.


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Posted by Ted Syrett
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 12, 2013 at 2:15 pm

I commend Carolyn Clarke for her thoughtful comments, with which I entirely agree. As for Keith's obvious ambition, I'd rather have an ambitious representative (as long as she's not Ted Cruz or Michelle Bachman) than one who's phoning it in.


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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 12, 2013 at 2:47 pm

Sorry, my previous comment was directed at council member Carolyn Clarke, not Carlton (whomever that might be?).


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Posted by assumptions
a resident of another community
on Dec 12, 2013 at 4:10 pm

Whatever, you should not read too much into what Sandy wrote about burnishing a high regional profile. None of the elected supervisors currently representing Menlo Park or North Fair Oaks have ever served on any city council. Andy Cohen would now be our Supervisor if years on council or years attending council of cities dinners were a big factor.


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Posted by Pension plan
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm

I've heard council members need to serve at least two terms before being eligible for the pension plan. After eight years of service, you'd get $146/mo.


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Posted by whatever
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 12, 2013 at 11:42 pm

Editor - what's objectionable about this comment that you find it necessary to delete. In that case you should also delete council member Clarke's comments.
(Check your facts. Clarke was not elected to the City Council.)


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Posted by Pension Plan
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 13, 2013 at 12:29 am

We've never heard council members complain about serving the residents of Menlo Park, and nothing in this story indicates that. The two supervisors currently representing Menlo Park take no salary, as both are receiving pensions. I do not recall ever reading a story in the Almanac praising Warren Slocun or Don Horsley for this, but that would certainly be a pleasant surprise.


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Posted by Sandy Brundage, Almanac Staff Writer
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 13, 2013 at 10:52 am

As people keep asking what the totals for Keith and Carlton would have been if the data range started in Dec. 2012 instead of September:

Keith - $2,157.80 and 21 requests

Carlton - $1,977.93 and 8 requests

Not only does it not change who expensed the most, it also would have made no sense to start with December 2012, for the reasons given in an earlier comment.


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Posted by closure
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 13, 2013 at 2:55 pm

Thanks Sandy, hopefully this is the last time Keith expenses a bike summit and/or community festival without first checking what fellow council members have expensed. This was the whole point of Ohtaki having the taxpayers of Galway pay for his hotel, right?


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Posted by Good Job
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 14, 2013 at 9:06 am

Don't worry about the criticism Sandy.

It's a good article. How else would we know how much time our elected officials are spending working on issues in Menlo Park as opposed to outside the City?

It's totally foreseeable that Council members and their supporters might become defensive. But the facts are what they are.


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Posted by way way back
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm

If I'm not mistaken, this pie chart thing all started with this story. "Menlo official spent $745 to get to Fresno (Web Link) Menlo Park Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson, who is raising eyebrows for staying at a $400-a-night hotel during a Washginton D. C. lobbying trip, has used taxpayer money for a $745 roundtrip flight to Fresno and a $2, 000 conference that included a dinner prepared by Wolfgang Puck."

Around this time, Councilwoman Keith reported that she was flying to DC for something to do with the creek, but she was not asking the city to reemburse her for any part of the trip. It appears that securing funds for replacing old bridges to mitigate flooding in not as newsworthy as having a Guinness in Ireland.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 14, 2013 at 2:26 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"not as newsworthy as having a Guinness in Ireland."

That was covered by the Almanac is a separate story.

And that trip was at zero cost to Menlo Park.


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Posted by true
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Sandy omitted the words 'Menlo Park' when describing that no tax payer dollars were spent on the trip to Galway. If tax payers of Galway paid for Mayor Ohtaki's hotel, maybe the Menlo Park Chamber should pay them back.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 14, 2013 at 5:00 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"If tax payers of Galway paid for Mayor Ohtaki's hotel, maybe the Menlo Park Chamber should pay them back."

Why - this trip was as much in Galway's interest as it was Menlo Park?


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Posted by grifter
a resident of another community
on Dec 14, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Ohtaki's comment was fine, and he was just playing to the crowd that hates spending Menlo Park tax dollars on anything. Sandy's story is factually wrong, on the other hand, because tax dollars were spent.


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Posted by perspective
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 14, 2013 at 11:03 pm

The top story in today's Daily Post read, "Council expenses $29,425", and "Shepherd racks up $13,373 on conferences, meals, travel", since January 1, 2013, including a $6,000 trip through China. Wait, there's more...

Klein said he thought that rather than cut back, Palo Alto members should go to more conferences. "Palo Alto spends way less money that most cities," he said, "I would prefer to see it spend more because I think we get a lot of value out of them."


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Posted by Pension plan
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 15, 2013 at 12:27 am

Good Job should consider there is a lot of value in promoting Menlo Park from outside our city, to put Menlo Park on the map for more thatn the VCs on Sand Hill Road and the home of Facebook. When is the last time the Mayor of Menlo Park was MC at an event at the Regan Library with the RNC. Web Link


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Posted by Reality check
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 15, 2013 at 8:18 am

Agree with "Good Job" that the facts are the facts. Totally natural for someone like Keith, in this case, to become defensive when the facts and numbers don't look good for her. My guess is that she had her supporters working overtime to provide positive commentary on Town Square.

Perspective: Just because Palo Alto council members spend more than Menlo Park council members doesn't mean that Menlo Park council members should do the same. And, what did you expect Klein to say????

If you look at these expenses as "investment" into the community, I would say Palo Alto wins solidly when it comes to "return on investment." At least, Palo Alto can point to their thriving local economy and community as a success story. Menlo Park cannot do the same. Keith has nothing to show for these trips, except the loss of her election to the board of supervisors less than two years after she was elected to the Menlo Park city council. Hopefully, Menlo Park voters will see Keith's true stripes and not re-elect her next year when she runs for the Menlo Park city council again.


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Posted by Sheldon Kay
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 15, 2013 at 9:47 am

So what do you want to see here? A council member who charged nothing and did nothing?


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 15, 2013 at 9:49 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Actually it might be useful to have the expense reports include a short statement as to what was accomplished by the trip/event for which reimbursement is being requested.


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Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 15, 2013 at 11:47 am

Sheldon Kay: Actually, in this case, Keith has charged the most and has done nothing as far as I can see. She tried to justify her expenses, but the lack of results don't justify almost $2,600 in expenses. For what... A failed supervisorial campaign less than two years after she was elected to the Menlo Park City council?

Peter Carpenter: good idea to have a short explanation as to the expenses, but that's what Keith was trying to give in the article. For Keith, though, she's just an ineffective council member who will use public money to further her blind political ambition. She could never give an adequate for abusing the use of public funds, imo.


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Posted by Pension Plan
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm

Reality Check should consider that Sandy's pie chart covers a period well after the 2012 primary, and there is no reason to believe that any of the supervisorial incumbents will be challenged in upcoming elections. If people are truly upset about Menlo Park city council members spending a fraction of what is spent in Palo Alto, there is no better place to voice this frustration than at the next Menlo Park city council meeting.




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Posted by reflection
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 15, 2013 at 1:49 pm

Back in October of 2011, then Vice Mayor Keith was the first to be appointed to the Facebook East Campus Subcommittee, which showed the respect and support of her fellow council members. Along with Mayor Cline, they did a fine job representing the interests of Menlo Park. More recently, Mayor Ohtaki declined to be on the Stanford ECR Project Subcommittee, and so former mayor Keith was appointed along with new council member Carlton. This again showed the respect and support of the new council. Keith's knowledge and her willingness to take a leadership role, especially on contentious issues, has served the city well. To say, "Keith has done nothing", as "Reality Check" implies, is an impossible position to back up.


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Posted by impact
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 15, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Keith may have had the greatest impact on the city merely by running for office. Boyle deserves even more credit, remember both Ohtaki and Keith only entered the race after Boyle decided not to run for reelection. In 2010, the Almanac endorsed Ohtaki, Cline and Robinson, and if Keith had not entered the race, those three (including Robinson) would have been elected to council. With that lineup on council, it's hard to imagine a scenario where anyone (even Cohen) doubted that Fergusson would become mayor, and possibly even supervisor.


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Posted by Good Job
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 15, 2013 at 8:40 pm

This thread has been informative. I think it has revealed some of the ways the council members and their supporters will try to distinguish themselves from each other during the next election cycle.


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Posted by WhoRUpeople
a resident of another community
on Dec 16, 2013 at 8:06 am

Reality Check said, "At least Palo ALto can point to their thriving local economy and community as a success story. Menlo Park cannot do the same." I agree. However, it has nothing to do with the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of council members. In Palo Alto, investment in renewal and new development is embraced and encouraged. Projects actually get approved and are not subsequently challenged with law suits or ballot measures.


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