Minor skirmish over City Councilmember’s travel expenses

by Jack Mayne

Normally the most boring part of a typical city council meeting is the routine approval of bills, but this week the amount spent by one Councilmember was criticized as spending too much for a hotel room.

Councilmember and Deputy Mayor Tony Anderson and new councilmember Kathryn Campbell, along with City Manager Todd Cutts attended the National League of Cities (NLC) annual conference in Washington, D.C. on March 8 to 12 and the bills were presented at the Council meeting last Tuesday (March 25) and routinely approved. Earlier the city had pre-approved expenses for the trip with hotel costs far lower than was spent by Campbell.

Campbell’s city credit card showed her cost was $1,499.95 for five nights lodging at the conference hotel, the Washington Marriott Wardman Park in toney Northwest Washington near Rock Creek Park. That breaks down to $299.99 a night.

Anderson stayed in another hotel and submitted a bill for $624.05, or $124.81 a night.

After hearing that, SeaTac Council critic (and SeaTac Blog columnist) Earl Gipson wrote a note to all Councilmembers suggesting Campbell spent too much of the city’s money.

“Councilmember Campbell’s expenses seems to have exceeded the generous amount allowed by the Council in pre-approvals and double the amount of other traveling SeaTac city officials going to the same NLC meeting…. Please explain or justify the reason for last night’s approval of what most would believe an excessive amount and in excess of pre-approval.”

Lesa Ellis, executive assistant to City Manager Cutts, responded to the Councilmembers that agreed Gipson was correct “that Councilmember Campbell’s expenses exceeded the $2,570 approved by Council … by $595.

“The reason is that the conference host hotel was $299.99 (with taxes) per night. I had not estimated the hotel at that rate when preparing the pre-travel authorization amount.”

Checking the hotel website finds the price of $300 a night at the lower end of rates it has for conferences.

Campbell said today that she was not trying to spend too much for the trip, and even took a red eye flight via JFK in New York to avoid staying an additional night at the hotel, and stayed a sixth night in the city and at the hotel at her own expense.

Ellis said the city was well within its budget for travel and the reason Campbell’s expenses were higher than Anderson’s is because “he was able to get a wonderful airfare and the conference hotel was sold out, so he found a less expensive hotel than the conference hotel.”

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