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Archive for Monday, December 1, 2008

Cedar Crest event budget examined

December 1, 2008

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— Kansas taxpayers have footed the bill for numerous parties, receptions and other private functions at the governor’s mansion.

State documents show that 42 functions hosted by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius at Cedar Crest between January 2006 and May 2008 cost the state $36,000, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported Sunday.

They have included a July 2007 meal for Delano Lewis, a Washburn University graduate and former ambassador to South Africa, that served 10 people and cost the state $870, and a series of holiday dinners in December 2007 for Sebelius’ staff, Cabinet members and others that served 120 people and cost $4,300.

Other events were cheaper, including $270 for a media reception in December 2006 and an auction lunch for Trinity Presbyterian Church in August 2007 that cost $75.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle said they saw nothing wrong with the practice, saying it reflected the importance of the mansion as an extension of the governor’s office and that previous governors have done the same thing.

“The residence provides a less formal setting for discussion and is also used for entertainment purposes,” said Sebelius spokeswoman Nicole Corcoran.

House Speaker Melvin Neufeld, R-Ingalls, said he felt the expenditures were appropriate, as did Rep. Mike O’Neal, R-Hutchinson.

“It is very obvious a venue for governmental activities,” O’Neal said.

Jennie Rose, who was chief of staff for former first lady Linda Graves, said former Gov. Bill Graves often held events at the mansion.

“When I came into my office that first day, there was a stack of requests for Cedar Crest about 2 feet high,” Rose said.

But the practice attracted scrutiny earlier this year when it was revealed that one of the state events in April 2007 had included Wichita abortion provider George Tiller. Tiller had won the meal at a Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus auction in 2005.

Sebelius said at the time that her office hasn’t followed its policy of not paying for political events and the Women’s Political Caucus reimbursed the state for the meal. The governor’s office said it would search through previous dinners for other inappropriate items.

The newspaper said its review of the documents found another instance where the state paid for another Women’s Political Caucus auction in September 2007 but wasn’t reimbursed until June 2008.

Corcoran said the office discovered the error in an internal review and “our efforts are ongoing to ensure expenses are handled appropriately.”

Sebelius has donated 10 meals to various charity auctions during the period studied. Corcoran said that while the state’s entertainment budget pays for most mansion events, the charity events are “sometimes paid for from her (Sebelius’) budget, sometimes donated by the charity and sometimes donated by the caterer.”

Brickyard Barn Inn & Catering, Evan Williams Catering and Carol Hamilton Catering have handled 23 of the 42 events.

Scott Nickel, with Brickyard, said Sebelius will often make the orders herself. Knowing that “people will be looking over her shoulder,” Nickel said he usually cuts the governor a deal, sometimes just breaking even.

“We like to do it as a service to the state,” he said. “Besides, it’s just fun to go out there.”

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