Sixty-nine dollars might not seem like enough money to fight over -– but that’s just what city officials spent Wednesday morning doing.
City Solicitor George Nilson is requesting to be reimbursed for $69.93 he paid for a hotel room near Chicago in March when he was traveling home from a work conference that turned into a personal vacation in Anchorage, Alaska. Nilson was attending the International Municipal Lawyers Association from May 17 to May 20, but stayed in Alaska for an extra week on a personal vacation. When his connecting flight home from Chicago was abruptly cancelled on May 27, he rented a hotel room for $69.93.
He argued during a meeting prior to the Board of Estimates that taxpayers should pick up the bill, because the hotel was an "unexpected expense" of the trip home, which was related to a work function.
“The travel back from a city business trip is city business,” Nilson said.
But City Auditor Robert McCarty objected to the reimbursement. “Because the conference ended on May on May 20, 2014, these hotel costs are not associated with conducting official City business,” the auditor wrote.
Comptroller Joan Pratt and City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young – two of five members of the Board of Estimates – agreed, saying the reimbursement was inappropriate. “I just don’t feel the city should pay for your hotel,” Pratt told Nilson, the city’s top lawyer. Given that Nilson, also a member of the board, was recusing himself from the vote, that meant the reimbursement would fail.
“This is an appropriate expense,” Nilson argued. “It’s ridiculous to say ‘no.’”
Nilson asked for the vote to be postponed a week – so that Deputy City Solicitor David Ralph could sit in for him.
Ralph said he would vote with a mind independent of his boss.
“He’s not telling me what to do,” Ralph said of Nilson.
Young, who is president of the spending panel, allowed the reimbursement request to be postponed, but urged Nilson to drop the matter.
“It’s $69,” Young said. “I’ll give it to you.”