The former Republican senator hired as Gov. Jeff Colyer's regulatory fixer billed Kansas taxpayers thousands of dollars for driving to and from the job in Topeka after his official work station was quietly switched from a state office building near the Capitol to his residence in Salina.

Tom Arpke, who burnished a political reputation in the Senate and House as a fiscal conservative eager to expose spending he considered superfluous, was chosen in 2018 by Colyer to serve as the executive branch's regulatory ombudsman. His task was to be a link between nine state agencies, the governor's office and Kansas businesses confounded by the state's bureaucracy.

On the job, Arpke bent the rules and demanded extra pay. He got caught.

Documents obtained by The Topeka Capital-Journal through a request under the Kansas Open Records Act indicated Arpke's annual salary was in the neighborhood of $80,000. One month after starting the job, top officials in the Colyer administration transitioned Arpke's office location to West Iron Road in Salina.

The decision to designate Arpke's office as his personal residence 112 miles away from the Curtis State Office Building adjacent to the Capitol was authorized by Shawn Sullivan, the Colyer administration's chief operating officer and the state budget director under Gov. Sam Brownback, and executed by Sarah Shipman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Administration under both governors.

The distinction was necessary to justify Arpke's monthly claims that Kansas taxpayers should pay him extra every time he drove to Topeka for work. On at least 19 occasions from the time he was hired in June until his dismissal in January, Arpke billed the state for the 225-mile trip from Salina to Topeka and back to Salina.

He pocketed nearly $4,000 in supplemental compensation, an amount that included out-of-state travel to an ombudsman training conference in Portland, Ore. Those vouchers didn't create much heartburn until Colyer left office in January and handed the keys to Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly. Colyer had lost the GOP gubernatorial primary the previous August to Kris Kobach, who then lost the general election to Kelly.

Arpke's final batch of travel vouchers were submitted to the Kelly administration for a three-month period covering November, December and January. Arpke said he was surprised to be told by Kelly administration officials the special consideration afforded him for Salina-to-Topeka travel and food expenditures under Colyer was a violation of state policy.

"It became clear that I could not sign what you had submitted and maintain adherence to those policies," Will Lawrence, chief of staff to Kelly, informed Arpke.

Arpke's final request for reimbursement of $2,130 was reduced to a payment of $283 because nine of the former senator's round trips to Topeka were disallowed by Kelly's staff.

In an interview, Arpke said the Democratic governor's ill-advised reversal was done without properly informing him in advance.

"When I had the discussion with Governor Colyer, my office was my house," Arpke said. "So any time I traveled to Topeka for business, that was considered a trip that was reimbursable. Governor Kelly didn't agree with that."

While Arpke said it was understood in the Colyer administration that Salina was his base of operation, Kansas Open Records Act requests produced emails from Sullivan and Shipman that showed steps had to be taken after Arpke started his job as regulatory ombudsman to remove from personnel records a reference to his office location being in Topeka.

Sullivan sent an email to colleagues outlining Arpke's June 25 starting date, explaining Sullivan would be Arpke's supervisor and mentioning that funding of Arpke's salary would be divided among nine major state agencies. There would have been a 10th, but the Kansas Department of Transportation objected to the arrangement.

Shipman, the secretary of administration, made reference by email one month later to the change of Arpke's official duty station. In addition, an email about that time from the division of personnel services said staff there received "go ahead from Shawn" Sullivan to designate Arpke's work station as Salina.

Arpke said his office in Topeka served no purpose other than to set up a working telephone to forward business calls to his cellphone. Documents provided to The Capital-Journal showed Arpke was compensated for 10 round trips from Salina to Topeka by the Colyer administration and that Kelly administration staff rejected all nine Salina-to-Topeka-to-Salina drives on his vouchers.

"There might be a claim against the state filed. I haven't decided yet," Arpke said.

Arpke's employment in the governor's office was terminated Jan. 18, four days after Kelly took the oath of office. In Kansas, election of a new governor from another political party typically results in heavy executive branch turnover.

"I think it was political," Arpke said of his dismissal. "It was not a friendly parting."

Sen. Randall Hardy, a Salina Republican who replaced Arpke in the Kansas Senate, said it would have made sense for Arpke to be headquartered in Topeka, where all but one of the agencies he served were located. Hardy also expressed doubt about providing extra compensation to a state employee working from home.

"I would say that I would be skeptical that that was the best use of taxpayer dollars," Hardy said. "I think that we all should be good stewards of government money and spend it wisely, because it is a limited resource. I definitely feel that way about what I do for the state."

Wichita Rep. Henry Helgerson, who has served more than 20 years in the House and Senate, said the Arpke situation was another piece of evidence that state government, both the legislative and executive branches, had a poor record of personnel and financial oversight.

"There are a series of examples in the last several administrations of lack of close oversight," said Helgerson, a Democrat. "It does not seem appropriate to voucher those expenses, but it doesn't seem he should have been hired. What did he do?"

Last June, Colyer offered a hearty welcome when announcing the hiring of Arpke, who had been defeated for re-election to the Senate. Arpke had made the transition from House to Senate when Brownback led a Republican-on-Republican primary revolt to replace most of the Senate's GOP moderates with such conservatives as Arpke.

"Kansas needs to be attracting more businesses and taking excellent care of the businesses that are already here,” Colyer said. "This new position will ease that burden for business and Tom is just the man for the job.”

Arpke said demise of the regulatory ombudsman position was unfortunate because issues he worked on had nothing to do with his Republican Party pedigree. He said he worked on moving health aides and nursing assistants more swiftly from college to the workplace. He dealt with regulatory problems at cattle feedlots and delved into complaints about the permit process required to drill for oil or gas on leased ground.

"It's unfortunate we've lost momentum on that," Arpke said. "Not a doubt in my mind."

Arpke, a former Salina City Commission member, was elected to the Kansas House in 2010 and to the Senate in 2012. He was defeated in 2016 by Hardy in the Senate Republican primary.

In the Legislature, Arpke led the fight to repeal a state law granting public school teachers with three years of experience the right to request a hearing before an independent evaluator whenever a school district decided not to renew an educator's annual contract.

He was chairman of a Senate subcommittee during the 2016 session that appropriated $7.4 million from budgets at the University of Kansas and Kansas State University to benefit a medical school expansion in Sedgwick County and to finance state medical scholarships.

Arpke left Topeka before the end of the legislative session in 2015 to go on a cruise. He missed a series of key votes but, in accordance with Senate rules, was paid his salary during the absence.

Before Arpke's service in the Legislature, he was treasurer for Kobach's successful campaign for secretary of state in 2010. In 2011, Kobach was fined $5,000 for inaccurately reporting more than $75,000 in campaign contributions and expenses. Members of the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission, which leveled the fine against Kobach, questioned Arpke’s honesty in the case.