UPDATE: Sen. McGuire says she plans to fire staffer over hotel spending controversy
Updated: Friday, Sept. 25, 2015 at 10:09 a.m.
In a phone conversation Friday morning, Sen. Lesil McGuire said she didn’t want to comment on Thursday’s story because she’s planning to fire Staffer Genevieve Wojtusik and is in negotiations with the HR department.
In addition to signing off on the Seattle expenses, McGuire says the staff member also used the senator’s signature to approve personal vacation time a few weeks ago.
McGuire says she was “flabbergasted” that Genevieve signed off on this trip, using her signature without telling her, and says she has never had a staff member do this before.
In reference to the report that her staff members spent $460 a night on Seattle hotel rooms, McGuire says she would never have approved spending that kind of money on a hotel and says she understands why the public would be upset. She claims that she told staffers one of the ways they could make this right is by paying back hotel costs to a reasonable rate. Says she’s proud of them for having done so.
McGuire has now revoked all signing privileges from her entire staff, which was confirmed by the Legislative Affairs Agency.
Seventeen legislators and 25 staff members spent more than $90,000 at the National Conference of State Legislators 2015 summit last month.
Sen. Lesil McGuire didn’t attend, but two of her staff members did.
Genevieve Wojtusik and Amy Saltzman each spent $460 a night on hotel rooms. Wojtusik spent six nights at the Hyatt Olive 8 hotel and Saltzman spent seven, for a total charge of 13 nights.
Mcguire told the Alaska Dispatch News she didn’t approve that spending. She says Wojtusik approved the trip without her knowledge.
The Legislative Affairs Agency’s accounting department says Wojtusik was listed as having McGuire’s authority to sign on her behalf.
In an email statement Wojtusik responded:
I had authority to sign-off on travel expenses under the Administrative Regulation Review Committee and neglected to add my initials and present the full details of the trip. The trip was more expensive than anticipated because we were unable to book a hotel at the discounted conference rate and we also participated in the Women’s Legislative Network, which extended the length of the trip.
I have accepted full responsibility and both Amy and I have personally reimbursed the state for the extra costs.
Senator McGuire has asked that we change signing authority for our committees within the office and that, effective immediately, only the Senator will be authorized to sign for any committee travel or expenses.
Last week, Sen. McGuire told Alaska Dispatch News Senate President Kevin Meyer had signed off on the trip. Sen. Meyer says his office wouldn’t approve a staff member’s trip without a legislator’s knowledge.
“The senator would know if we’d approved it,” Meyer said. “We would want to make sure that the legislator that he or she works for had approved it.”
KTVA made multiple attempts to reach McGuire on Thursday. Her staff said she didn’t want to comment.
Wojtusik and Saltzman weren’t the only attendees that spent big money on a hotel. Rep. Mark Neuman spent two nights at the Grand Hyatt for $439 a night.
Meyer says his office has scrutinized spending, but he can’t control what the House does. Meyer pointed out that his office only approved one senator’s travel for the trip.
“You really need to talk to Mike Chenault about why he had to send 17,” Meyer said.
Rep. Les Gara says Meyer could have called that spending off.
“He’s the senate president, he gets to say in a meeting, ‘you guys get to go,’ or ‘you don’t get to go.’ We have a fiscal crisis or we don’t have a fiscal crisis,” Gara said.
The-five day summit is an annual event for legislators from across the country. Lawmakers say it provides networking opportunities and problem-solving workshops.
In 2014, the state sent 11 legislators and 20 staff members to the summit.
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