Terry Riley thinks I'm out to get him.
A month ago, when I stopped the Kansas City councilman at City Hall and asked for an interview, he suggested that The Pitch was on a witch hunt. A few weeks later, he finally called: "What is it, man? Do you hate me, Dave?"
I don't think it's hateful to want to talk to a public official when a mess is made of a multimillion-dollar city contract. A recent audit of a contract for document services uncovered a bunch of garbage, including the meddling of an unnamed council member. Riley admits that he is the councilman described in the audit, but he denies wrongdoing. I wrote a column about all of that last week (Pity Partier, February 28).
And that might have been the end of it, except for something else Riley said in the hallway at 12th Street and Oak.
After Riley cursed at me, he complained about something I wrote for The Pitch's blog in December. The blog entry described a $60 advertisement that Riley had placed in a church bulletin and billed to the city. In the blog entry, I suggested that Riley's campaign committee — rather than city taxpayers — should have paid for that church-bulletin ad. At our February encounter, Riley called the blog entry a low shot. "I don't even have a campaign committee," the term-limited councilman said.
But that's not true. Friends of Terry Riley for City Council is an active committee, with $11,565 in the bank.
Riley's comment about the campaign committee made me curious enough to search for its most recent reports on the Missouri Ethics Commission Web site. There, I found that Riley had withdrawn more than $4,400 from his campaign committee between April and December 2007.
Some descriptions of his expenses, I noticed, looked a lot like what I had already seen in Riley's file of expense reimbursements at City Hall. Last fall, I did the city-desk reporter's equivalent of morning calisthenics and asked for the expense reports of all 12 council members. Riley's file was the thickest.
Comparing Riley's City Hall records with those on file at the state, it appears as though Riley double-billed travel expenses, potentially putting hundreds of dollars into his own pocket.
In one instance, the city and Riley's campaign committee appear to have reimbursed him for the same hotel bill. Another time, records show, a professional organization paid Riley for lodging in Washington, D.C., after his campaign had already taken care of the bill.
Here's what I was able to reconstruct from looking at the documents.
On August 17, 2007, the city wrote Riley a check for $487.96 to cover expenses related to the National Urban League's convention in downtown St. Louis. No surprises here. City Council members who attend conferences routinely ask the city to reimburse them for money spent on transportation, lodging and meals.
What isn't proper is to take said receipts and double one's pleasure.
Two days after the Urban League conference ended, on July 28, Friends of Terry Riley paid an unnamed recipient who lives at Riley's address $359.06 for "Hotel — Urban L." If Riley's campaign committee really did reimburse the councilman for his hotel stay during the Urban League conference, something's amiss. Because the $487.96 reimbursement request that Riley submitted to the city included a receipt from a two-night stay at a Drury Inn in St. Louis.
A similar thing happened two months later.
On September 28, 2007, Riley flew to Washington, D.C., to attend the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual conference. Shortly before he left, the city cut Riley a $616 check for expenses. Most of the money, $446.55, paid for two nights at the Renaissance Hotel, according to a request Riley submitted in advance of the trip.
But on the day he returned from Washington, Friends of Terry Riley recorded a $520.09 expenditure to the Renaissance Hotel for the "Nat'l Black Cau."
The discrepancy in the two hotel payouts can be explained by a receipt Riley submitted to the city upon his return. Laundry service and an additional charge to guest No. 9237 — Riley — raised the Renaissance bill to $520.09.
Ultimately, the city reimbursed Riley only $77.20 for the Washington trip. A bill for his hotel room, meals and cab fare ended up later with the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials. Riley was the president of this group at the time of the Washington conference.
According to the City Controller's Office, the National Black Caucus of Local Elected Officials wrote Riley a check for $546.11 to cover his expenses. Riley then wrote a check to the city for the same amount, relieving the city of most of the cost of his trip.
Still, Riley's $546.11 check does not erase the appearance that he was reimbursed twice for the same expenses. After all, Friends of Terry Riley actually paid for the hotel, according to campaign disclosure forms.
The recent travel-expense reimbursements weren't the Riley campaign committee's first questionable checks.
In 2002, a front-page story in The Kansas City Star detailed the abuses of city-issued mobile phones. Riley emerged as one of the worst offenders. The Star reported that he had logged more than 17,000 minutes on his phone over a three-month period, racking up $2,219 in charges.
Riley was in no position to argue that he was conducting city business during all the hours he spent on his wireless phone. The Star counted 40 calls that he had made or received between 11 p.m. and 3:24 a.m. one Thursday night and Friday morning.
The Star story noted that Riley had delivered a $1,525 check to City Hall three days before the story ran. The story did not mention that the money came from Friends of Terry Riley.
I'm not sure this was legal. State law says campaign contributions may not be converted to personal use. And unless you're a secret agent, a prostitute or an obstetrician, what's more personal than a 1 a.m. phone call?
I asked Riley for another interview. He asked to see my questions in writing. After reading the questions, he told me that he thought it was acceptable to use campaign money to pay phone charges. In any case, he said he would reimburse the committee $1,525. As for the travel expenses, Riley claimed that he reimbursed the campaign in instances where there was "overlap." Yet the last three available campaign-finance reports show no receipts of payment from Riley — the money is always going the other way. Riley said the committee's records will be amended to reflect these reimbursements for reimbursements — though he couldn't show me any documentation, he said, because he'd paid back his committee with cash.
In a city with a budget imbalance of $78 million and more than 200 drive-by shootings last year, church-bulletin ads and $195-a-night hotel rooms don't add up to much. But when the people put in place to handle the big issues can't do the little things, progress begins to look unattainable.