The Mercury requested records of county and city officials in October to compare expenses and mileage of the people who serve as commissioners.
Two county officials accrued about $7,000 in expenses and mileage from 2018 until the fall of 2019, according to Riley and Pottawatomie County documents obtained by The Mercury in October.
Riley County Commission vice chair Marvin Rodriguez accrued a total of $7,573.13 during that time period with $4,960.87 in 2018 and $2,612.26 in 2019, including mileage reimbursements.
Pottawatomie County commissioner Dee McKee accrued $6,809.59 in expenditures and mileage from 2018 until the fall of 2019.
Rodriguez said he had a trip to Nashville for county work. He also travels often to Riley and other cities in the county for city meetings.
However, commissioners don’t always make a request for reimbursement of travel.
Rodriguez said he does not track or get compensated for mileage in town, and McKee paid for all her meals and travel while in Washington, D.C., for the National Association of Counties conference. She has attended that twice, in 2018 and 2019.
McKee was reimbursed for two plane tickets, one in 2018 and one in 2019. One ticket cost $926.66 and the other for $687.04, respectively. She met with President Donald Trump in the White House Oval Office on one of the trips.
The $926.66 ticket was more expensive as McKee booked the trip only a week in advance. She said she could not make the reservation until about a week before the trip due to township planning.
McKee said she covered all costs for her own meals and mileage while in Washington. She said she was not reimbursed for those costs.
Over the course of 2018, former Riley County commissioner Ben Wilson accrued $900.80 in expenses and current Riley County chair Ron Wells had $2,778.70. From January to October 2019, Riley County commissioner John Ford had $2,705.15 in expenses while Wells had $881.99.
Rodriguez received $2,212.20 in mileage compensation over the course of 2018 and $1,903.86 from January to October 2019. Wilson received $130.80 in mileage reimbursement during 2018 and Wells received $619.92.
Ford received $158.12 in mileage and Wells received $31.99 from January to October 2019.
Rodriguez recently visited Nashville to attend a conference on the county’s behalf. His wife went with him on the trip, but the county did not cover any of her costs while on the trip, Rodriguez said.
When asked about her expenses, McKee said she is much more involved in affairs than the other commissioners, Travis Altenhofen and Pat Weixelman. She also said she travels much more than her colleagues because they have other full-time jobs.
“We’re the hands of the state government,” McKee told The Mercury.
McKee frequently visits Topeka during the legislative session at the beginning of every year. She also attends meetings throughout the region in cities such as Salina, Emporia and Wichita, among others.
During the same time period, commissioner Travis Altenhofen accrued no expenses while commissioner Pat Weixelman received $193.50 in reimbursements for mileage from his home to Westmoreland for meetings. He was reimbursed for a total of 387 miles.
Altenhofen said he does not report expenses to the county for reimbursement, while McKee was reimbursed for 9,660 miles of travel, according to the documents.
Kansas statute 28-169 indicates that officials in any county with a population below 80,000 people can be compensated for “necessary traveling expenses.” That is an unchanged law since 1943, according to a Kansas Attorney General opinion issued in 2004.
“Traveling between work and a personal residence is generally not considered to be ‘performing duties’ for the employer,” according to the opinion, however.
As of 2017, Pottawatomie County has a population of 23,908 people and Riley County’s population is 74,172, according to the United States Census Bureau.
“Pottawatomie County does approve mileage for commissioners traveling to and from their regular scheduled commission meetings,” said Ashley Rice, county election deputy, in an email to The Mercury. “This is paid through their payroll because it is a taxable benefit.”
Weixelman agreed with McKee that she travels much more than the other commissioners for the county. He said she doesn’t overspend.
Pottawatomie County commissioners’ annual salary for 2019 is $28,078.44, according to records The Mercury obtained.
Riley County commissioners made $45,900.64 in 2019, according to Tami Robison, budget and finance officer for Riley County.
Next year, Riley County commissioners will make $50,077.43.
Altenhofen suggested that Pottawatomie County adopt a policy for the commission on their expenses that details what specifically is reimbursable.
Within the Manahattan City Commission, commissioner Linda Morse had $900.52 in expenses during 2018 while commissioner Usha Reddi had $279. Mayor Mike Dodson had $121.80 in 2018.
Also in 2018, commissioner Jerred McKee had $45 in expenses while commissioner Wynn Butler had no expenses.
In 2019, Reddi had $3,807.96 in expenses for things such as meals and travel for conferences. Dodson had $160 in expenses in 2019. McKee had $3,024,74.
Morse accrued $3,180.225.
Butler did not have any expenses.
None of the Manhattan city commissioners tracked mileage, other than McKee had a taxi fare of $20.73.