Menlo council members' travel expenses vary widely, with mayor topping the list
An annual review of the City Council's travel expenses shows Mayor Kirsten Keith on pace as the top spender, by far, among elected Menlo Park officials since 2004.
So far this calendar year Ms. Keith has expensed $2,319.60. In 2011 her reimbursements totaled $2,186.59, city records show.
As in previous years, Councilman Rich Cline spent the least. His grand total for the past 18 months, including 10 months as mayor? Zero. He declined to comment on his pattern of frugality.
Council members receive a $640 monthly salary (previously known as a stipend). City Manager Alex McIntyre said the five-member council collectively has an additional $10,000 at its disposal to cover individual travel costs as part of the annual city budget. Council members either ask the city to pay in advance, or request reimbursement. If the trip involves out-of-state travel, reimbursement must be approved by the council during a regular meeting.
Highlights of Ms. Keith's expenses:
• Progress Seminar in Monterey: $943.
• League of California Cities annual conference in San Francisco: $525.
• Upcoming League of Cities annual conference in San Diego: $475.
• League of Cities "Employee Relations" policy committee meeting: $281.60.
• "The Making of a Monument from Conception to Completion" in Burlingame: $125.
Asked how constituents benefit and how she decides which events to attend, the mayor responded in an email: "As you know, we have Procedure CC-91-002 that guides the purpose of attendance and participation at events and functions for all city employees and Council that is necessary to the performance of official duty and provides direct benefit to the City. There is an attachment titled 'Chart of Conferences and Meetings' that specifically includes the Progress Seminar and League of California Cities meetings."
Curious about what a "Progress Seminar" is? The annual event, co-sponsored by county chambers of commerce, "brings together business, government, and community leaders for informal discussions about regional issues, and opportunities to meet those issues," according to the website.
Noting that she did not incur any hotel expenses, Ms. Keith said she was selected to sit on the employee relations subcommittee, which meets four times a year at rotating locations in California.
As for the Burlingame event: "The Making of a Monument was in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, as is the picture of Dr. King on the wall at the Onetta Harris Community Center in Belle Haven," Ms. Keith said.
The mayor's tab also included $175 for dinner at the San Mateo County History Museum in Redwood City honoring Keith Sorenson and Jim Fox, with the choice of filet mignon or vegetarian platters.
The Almanac reported 18 months ago that fellow council member Kelly Fergusson averaged $1,996 per year during her eight years on the council. The incumbent, now running for a third term, has sharply ramped down spending. She came in a distant second to Ms. Keith in the latest tabulations, having requested reimbursement for only seven Council of Cities dinners, for a total $295 from March 2011 through the present.
"I don't perceive any change. I continue to apply my approximately $550 per month stipend to pay for most direct expenses associated with my duties as a council member," Ms. Fergusson said, adding that she's "always been frugal with city funds."
The city covers the costs of monthly dinners for the Council of Cities, for which she serves as vice chair, but "beyond that, in my role as council member — but of course from my personal funds — I am as generous as I can be in financial support of local nonprofits and foundations."
Councilman Andy Cohen, finishing out his second term, came in third with $195.08. A ticket to this year's Bay Area Maker Faire — a two-day event showcasing do-it-yourself inventions along the lines of homemade 3D printers and lock picking workshops — accounted for about one quarter of his expenses.
"Having attracted Facebook, and being home to many startups thanks to Tarleton and other incubator type business locations in the M-2 (commercial zone), I thought it was a good idea to see what tech startups were offering," Mr. Cohen said when asked how the Maker Faire related to his official duties.
Vice Mayor Peter Ohtaki expensed $145: one $40 Council of Cities dinner, and the registration fee for a meeting hosted by the Association of Bay Area Governments.