Former Modesto City Councilwoman Janice Keating rang up thousands of dollars in expenses during her last three years in office, charging the city for expensive cell phone bills and in-town mileage.
Keating and two colleagues on the council said the expenses reflect the work she put into her public service, making time for meetings when other elected officials could not. Keating's expenses averaged $5,059 a year from 2007 through 2009.
"Janice is the one who really did the work. The others had jobs, and they couldn't do it," said Mayor Jim Ridenour, a Keating supporter. He said he asked Keating to take on more work for the city because of her flexible schedule as a self-employed accountant and that he approved Keating's expenses.
The expenses are permitted, but council members often waive them to spare the city money and to protect their image.
"This is why I don't (file in-town expenses), because of stories like this," said Councilman Brad Hawn, a Keating supporter. "You're under a microscope and it's not worth it to me."
Keating is one of six Republican candidates running for the 25th Assembly District. All of them have experience in local government with different paper trails detailing the expenses they billed to the agencies they represented.
Those charges have not emerged as a public issue in the campaign, but management of public money has. Each candidate is running to reform spending in Sacramento, criticizing the Democratic-controlled Legislature for not reining in costs.
Keating spent $18,189 since 2002, with $15,178 coming after 2007. She said she took on more work lobbying for the city after 2007.
"I was spending a lot of time when no one on the council had it to go to Sacramento," she said. "It was extremely time-consuming."
The Bee obtained the expense reports from city clerks in Modesto, Riverbank and Turlock and the Tuolumne County counsel's office.
Among the six candidates, Tuolumne County Supervisor Teri Murrison spent the next-highest sum. She spent $7,326 from 2006 through 2009, mostly on travel to conferences.
Other candidates had similar records of charging local governments for out-of-town travel:
Modesto City Councilwoman Kristin Olsen charged the city to attend a 2005 League of California Cities conference in 2005, totaling $1,274. Aside from a $35 fee for a planning con- ference, Olsen did not report other city expenses.
Former Turlock City Councilman Kurt Vander Weide attended a conference in 2007 costing $1,142. He had a city pager that cost $102 from July 2005 to September 2006. He also attended a Central Valley mayors conference that cost $50.
Former Modesto City Councilman Bill Conrad attended a Chamber of Commerce event that cost $250 in 2000, a Modesto A's game that cost $14 and a fund-raiser that cost the city $70. He said he had an expense account that gave him about $100 a month for incidental charges, but the city did not have a record of that spending.
Riverbank City Councilman Jesse James White has not filed expense reports while he's been in office, Riverbank's city clerk said.
DSL, mileage included
Keating's expenses are different because they include DSL service at her home, mileage, and cell phone charges of at least $100 and as much as $459 for a month.
Some of the mileage reflected work she did for the city, attending conferences throughout the Central Valley. Other mileage showed her in-town work, such as meetings at City Hall.
"It's hard enough to give up so much time of your life," she said. "There aren't always really active people on the council. For those of us willing to put in the time, the work, it's the cost of doing business for serving the public."
Keating was a budget hawk on the City Council, voting against a pay raise in 2008. At the time she said, "You balance a budget in very small ways."
She later took the pay raise, earning $2,000 a month instead of $800.
She also was critical of monthly car allowances for city employees, saying they should file mileage reports instead of getting an allowance.
Keating said the cell phone bills and mileage reports show how hard she worked for the city from 2002 through 2009. She was a point person on development and neighborhood issues, which often led to residents calling her on her private line.
"I think my cell phone (number) was the worst-kept secret in the city," she said.
Her expenses are examples of a running debate over how much elected officials should be paid. Most council members say they go into their own pockets from time to time.
"If people think that being a council member or mayor means you should take food out of their family's mouth, that's crazy," Ridenour said.
Bee Assistant City Editor Adam Ashton can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2366.