Anyone who's ever had to dine at an airport can certainly understand how Doré Mead (11th Ward) shelled out $18 so that she and a city staffer could wolf down what a receipt called a "Pub Pastrami," a "Squatters Italin" [sic], an iced tea, and a Slice at the Salt Lake City airport in September 1998.
Joan Campbell (Second Ward) and former council member Brian Herron (Eighth Ward) are hotel movie buffs and are apparently quite aware that in-room movies won't be reimbursed. Campbell, who manages to find cheap shows, explains that she often gets bored on long trips. "Make sure to say that I pay for all of them," she notes, adding defensively, "At least I'm not sitting at the bar drinking." Likewise, Herron didn't ask for reimbursement for the $17.75 he spent on a flick at the Sheraton in Norfolk, Virginia, last summer.
("I don't reimburse for in-room movies," says Ristuben gruffly. "It's not part of city business and it doesn't look good to the voter." He concedes, however, that he may grudgingly reimburse a minibar tab as a meal expense.)
As boring and lonely as travel may be for some of the city's elected representatives, nothing was as tough as a trip to Miami taken by Barbara Johnson (Fourth Ward) in September 1998 to the National Recreation and Park Association's annual conference. The event's co-chairs promised great golfing, tennis, and shopping in Miami Beach. Unfortunately, as Johnson dejectedly writes in the memo accompanying her expense report, it was not to be: Hurricane George wrecked all the fun. "I had planned to visit several National Parks and had rented a car," she writes, noting that she had a nonrefundable ticket, and that the airport was even closed for 24 hours during the ordeal. Further, Johnson notes, there was no meal service in her hotel for three days. "I believe my action which resulted from the hurricane canceling the conference were [sic] reasonable and fiscally prudent," she concludes. Attached is a receipt from the travel agency that booked the trip, which advises: "Have a pleasant trip."
In March 1998 council president and Fifth Ward representative Jackie Cherryhomes left Minneapolis/St. Paul on a Tuesday morning, bound for New York's La Guardia Airport. Thursday at 11:00 a.m., she flew out of Newark bound for Orlando. She left Orlando at 8:45 that night and arrived in Las Vegas at 10:40 p.m. She made it back to Minneapolis on Friday at 8:00 p.m. So much for swanky political junkets.
Each council member has a different threshold for going the extra mile to save a tax dollar: Ostrow, Biernat, Campbell, Johnson, and Herron all attended the National League of Cities gathering in Los Angeles in December 1999. Herron spent $2,225.77 while staying with his wife at the Regal Biltmore Hotel (no movies this time). Johnson racked up a $2,182.27 bill at the same hotel but, insisting that she had been overcharged, got it knocked down by some $375. Campbell spent $1738.82 at the Wilshire Grand. Prudent Biernat stayed at the Marriott--not the site of the conference. At $1,321.61, his expenses would initially appear to make him the city's ranking tightwad. But a closer look at the records reveals that Ostrow, who stayed at the even farther-flung Otani Hotel for $1,375.88, somehow managed to get stuck with a $72 meal tab for Biernat.
Why exactly does Ostrow always get stuck with Biernat's food tab? "That's a very good question," Ostrow ponders. "I'm gonna have to turn the tables on him." Biernat, for his part, pleads innocence: "Well, it's only been one meal, right?" No, it's been several. "Well," he says flatly, "that's interesting."