Mueller told The Almanac, "I can't say definitively the agenda request was because of what happened during Councilmember Keith's trip to China, because she has not yet spoken about the trip at a City Council meeting. However, it would be disingenuous to say the questions that arose from the trip didn't prompt the best practices discussion. Current events almost always trigger best practices discussions."
All council members have traveled internationally on city business, noted Cline in an interview.
"This council, I think, has been on the road more than any other council I can remember," he said.
"Some are very clear, ceremonial invitations," Cline said. "There are a few that feel like they're trials, or meetings-of-the-mind-type things (that) didn't feel directed or formalized."
He said the city does already have clear policies around what types of travel can be reimbursed by the city, and when council members should travel at their own expense.
Fuzzier reasons to travel — where there's nothing on paper, and it's up to the council member to determine what the purpose is, Cline said — are "just a mess waiting to happen." Specifically, he said, he's requesting from the city attorney clarification "regarding the circumstance when third parties pay for travel."
"To make it clear, I don't think Kirsten did anything wrong. There's nothing on paper to say it's wrong," he said. "We can be better as a council to make it clear. And we will, hopefully."
Councilwoman Kirsten Keith told The Almanac in a written statement, "It is an excellent idea to have this discussion about best practices for council travel. I appreciate Rich Cline and Ray Mueller bringing this issue forward. Ray Mueller has done an outstanding job proposing new and innovative policies. Although we may have existing policies in this area, it's good to review and update them periodically."
The lack of clarity can leave residents feeling like they don't understand the purpose of a council member's travel, can lead to trust issues, and can also be unfair to the council member, he said. "The less ambiguous we all are, the better."
As for when the topic will get discussed, Cline said he would leave the matter to the discretion of the mayor and city manager.
Mueller said he hoped the review will "clarify for all of us when it's appropriate to be using the city name and logo. I think it's important to respond to the public, who's been asking questions about that.
"I think it's the perfect time to sit down with the city attorney and go over best practices over issues related to council travel, and do that in a public and transparent manner," he said.
2017 travel spending
In 2017, the city of Menlo Park reimbursed council members for at least $13,994 in travel costs. The city issued $7,474 in travel reimbursements to Catherine Carlton, $6,196 to Kirsten Keith, and $324 to Peter Ohtaki.
Carlton's 2017 reimbursed travel expenses included registration, meals, airfare and hotel costs for the National League of Cities Congressional Cities Conference; airfare and hotel costs for the League of California Cities Womens' Caucus; hotel and parking costs for two meetings of the League of California Cities Policy Committee; registration, parking and hotel costs for the League of California Cities Annual Conference and Expo; and hotel and registration costs for the Progress Seminar.
Keith's reimbursed travel expenses in 2017 included hotel, meals, flight, hotel costs for the National League of Cities Congressional Cities Conference; registration, airfare and hotel costs for the United States Conference of Mayors Annual Meeting; registration, hotel, meal costs for the League of California Cities Annual Conference and Expo; and registration for the Progress Seminar.
Ohtaki's reimbursed travel expenses were for registration and parking at the League of California Cities Annual Conference and Expo.
In 2018, as of late March, Keith had been reimbursed $1,323 in registration and airfare for the National League of Cities Conference and Peter Ohtaki was reimbursed $1,571 for attending the Silicon Valley Leadership Group's Washington Advocacy Trip, according to assistant to the city manager Clay Curtin.
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