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Columbia Missourian

DEAR READER: Skala's dining is in Kespohl's 'sites'

By Tom Warhover
March 26, 2010 | 1:16 p.m. CDT

Dear Reader:

Gary Kespohl and Karl Skala have kept the Missourian’s public life team busy with fact-checking claims and counterclaims made by the Third Ward opponents.

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The most recent uproar in the campaign is a he said/he said over travel.

Earlier this week, Kespohl complained in ads and on his Web site that incumbent Skala was living it up on the taxpayers’ dime for travel to conferences.

In the ads, seminars became junkets, and Skala was “eating like a king.”

Kespohl’s Web site included source material in the form of food receipts and a highlighted portion of the city rules governing council travel, which says:

“The mayor and council members shall exercise careful judgment to keep travel expenses to a reasonable amount.”

Kespohl doesn’t think his opponent meets that standard. Skala says he has nothing to apologize for.

It’s your job to decide (or to decide if the argument even matters).

It’s the Missourian’s job to provide some facts behind the argument.

In the first Missourian story, for instance, reporters Pat Sweet and Anne Christnovich show that:

In fact, Sweet shows that taxpayers could be paying more for meals than Skala’s spending.

Council members in 2008 agreed to apply the city's per-diem guidelines. A member can spend up to $7 for breakfast, $10 for lunch and $25 for dinner without showing receipts.

That comes to $42 a day for food.

Compare it to state government guidelines.

One of my sisters is a state park superintendent. When she travels to Columbia for a conference, she can be reimbursed up to $36 a day.

But when she goes to the bright lights of St. Louis, she can use up to $56 a day on food.  And if she were to travel to San Francisco, the grand total would go up to $64.

(I don’t think my sister traveled to California courtesy of the Show-Me State. If she did, she didn’t invite me.)

Sweet’s analysis shows that, on average, Skala spent less than $25 a day for food.

What’s the value of council members attending conferences at all?

Kespohl says that council members should be cutting back as the city's revenue picture grows worse. Comments to columbiamissourian.com have taken several sides.

It’s a question that doesn’t lend itself to numbers-crunching and rests more on the values a voter finds important.

While tame by Washington standards, the political rhetoric of the race has been pointed since the outset.

What's it all mean? Perhaps we'll know on April 7.

Tom