News Column

Arguments flare over city credit cards

February 25, 2014

By Pat Kimbrough, The High Point Enterprise, N.C.



Feb. 26--HIGH POINT -- City Manager Strib Boynton and some City Council members are butting heads over how city-issued credit cards have been used by employees.

Some council members say the cards have been widely used by employees for years to pay for meals that don't appear to have been related to job duties.

City policy governing the procurement card, or P-card, program, has always prohibited meal, travel, gasoline and entertainment expenses from being charged, except when authorized. Some council members said they don't think the policy has been enforced.

"The manual stated that, but they didn't really have a policy. They just allowed staff to buy meals over the years," said Councilman Jim Davis.

Examination of 8,500 pages of records of credit card data turned up "thousands of charges" that he and other council members have questioned, Davis said.

The policy was amended at council's request this week and now prohibits charges for meals by employees within Guilford, Davidson, Forsyth and Randolph counties.

"There's probably some legitimate charges," said Davis. "If a water main breaks and they work until midnight to fix it, the supervisor might go buy them all pizza. That's understandable to me. But obviously, (staff) thought there was some kind of abuse to it, and that's why they offered to make changes."

Boynton defended the oversight of the credit cards by city staff and said any instances of abuse were isolated. The city has fired two employees and disciplined a handful of others for misusing the cards in the 12 years the program has been in existence.

"We're very responsive to the concerns council had. I felt it was important to tighten up on the policy to minimize any risk of possible abuse, to say, 'If you're in town working, you're not going to stop by Wendy's and eat lunch on us,'" Boynton said. "I don't think (employees) were doing that. I don't know; I haven't gone through all 8,600 pages. I'm not going to do that. But, if it happened, it has not been widespread."

About 365 of the city's roughly 1,400 employees have credit cards and spend about $4.5 million per year with them. City officials say the cards are an efficient way for employees to buy small items they need to perform their duties.

Councilman Jeff Golden said he thinks the credit cards were used for meals unrelated to city business many times.

"I think we created an environment where personal purchases were OK if we gave them an out by saying they had to be reimbursed immediately," he said.

Boynton said the claim that staff allowed employees to charge for meals without restrictions was false.

"There are some times where we've picked up food, I think, for kids in a (city recreation) program," he said. "I know people complained about a bowling alley (expenditure). That's kids in a rec program, or seniors out on a trip or something."

Boynton also took exception to Davis questioning meal expenditures of City Project Executive Director Wendy Fuscoe during a council committee meeting Monday.

"The comments that the council made very personal, I think, were wrong. Our staff does not abuse the P-cards," Boynton said. "Wendy (Fuscoe's) meals were taken way out of context, omitting the fact that they were all approved. But singling out an individual employee, I think, is wrong. That should be done privately, if there's a problem."

City Project Chairman Richard Wood said all of the meal charges Davis questioned were directly related to the organization's mission of revitalizing the inner city.

Wood provided the Enterprise copies of all of Fuscoe's credit card charges for the past six months, which total $537.88. Some were for meals that included developers and others who were considering investments in High Point, he said. Others expenditures were for copies of reports and some were for meetings of City Project representatives to discuss revitalization initiatives, he said.

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(c)2014 The High Point Enterprise (High Point, N.C.)

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Source: High Point Enterprise (NC)


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