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Former Kansas senator billed travel, food from home office

May 04, 2019 - 1:28 pm

A regulatory ombudsman hired by former Gov. Jeff Colyer billed Kansas taxpayers thousands of dollars for travel and food after his official workstation was quietly switched from a state office building near the Capitol to his Salina home, according to a published report.

Former Republican senator Tom Arpke, who burnished a political reputation in the Legislature as a fiscal conservative eager to expose spending he considered superfluous, was chosen by Colyer last year to serve as a link between nine state agencies, the governor's office and Kansas businesses.

Documents obtained by the Topeka Capital-Journal through an open records request show his annual salary was about $80,000. One month after starting the job, top officials in the Colyer administration changed Arpke's office location to his residence in Salina.

The decision to designate Arpke's home as his official office was authorized by Shawn Sullivan, the Colyer administration's chief operating officer and the state budget director under Gov. Sam Brownback, and executed by Sarah Shipman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration under both governors, the newspaper reported.

That designation was used to justify Arpke's monthly claims that taxpayers should pay him extra every time he drove to Topeka for work. Arpke billed the state for the 225-mile trip from Salina to Topeka and back to Salina on at least 19 occasions from the time he was hired in June until his dismissal in January.

Arpke pocketed nearly $4,000 in supplemental compensation, an amount that included out-of-state travel to an ombudsman training conference in Portland, Oregon. Documents show Arpke was compensated for 10 round trips from Salina to Topeka by the Colyer administration.

After Colyer left office in January, Arpke submitted a batch of travel vouchers for November, December and January to the administration of Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Arpke said he was surprised to be told by Kelly administration officials that the special consideration afforded him for Salina-to-Topeka travel and food expenditures under Colyer was a violation of state policy.

"It became clear that I could not sign what you had submitted and maintain adherence to those policies," Will Lawrence, chief of staff to Kelly, informed Arpke.

His request seeking reimbursement of $2,130 was reduced to a payment of $283 because nine of the former senator's round trips to Topeka were disallowed by Kelly's staff.

"When I had the discussion with Governor Colyer, my office was my house," Arpke said. "So any time I traveled to Topeka for business, that was considered a trip that was reimbursable. Governor Kelly didn't agree with that."

Arpke contended his office in Topeka served no purpose other than to set up a working telephone to forward business calls to his cellphone.

His employment in the governor's office was terminated Jan. 18, four days after Kelly took office. In Kansas, election of a new governor from another political party typically results in heavy executive branch turnover.

"I think it was political," Arpke said of his dismissal. "It was not a friendly parting."

Sen. Randall Hardy, a Salina Republican who replaced Arpke in the Kansas Senate, said it would have made sense for Arpke to be headquartered in Topeka, where all but one of the agencies he served were located. Hardy also expressed doubt about providing extra compensation to a state employee working from home.

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