Dear EOD readers,
If you feel this matter needs more explanation from Commissioner Johnson and/or Dare County government, your assistance is most welcomed.
This will follow out telephone conversation yesterday and our telephone conversations previous to that. It will also follow my commitment to you in our telephone conversation yesterday to respond to you by email today. Dare County has given you every public record that it has in connection with Commissioner Richard Johnson’s travel to the NACo conference, whether you specifically asked for it or not. As we received your requests for public records staff has requested those public records from Commissioner Johnson. You have received everything that we have received from him as well. You have requested some personal records that I did not think were public records. Because of your interest in this subject, I contacted the UNC School of Government to be sure that my interpretation of the law was correct and was advised that it was. As such Commissioner Johnson has not provided records that do not come under the NC Public Records Act. These consist of records of personal expenses that were not reimbursed or otherwise paid for with County funds.
As you and I have discussed on the phone, the County has and will continue to follow the public records law and provide you with public records as you request them. Certainly if we receive other public records responsive to your request we will provide them to you as well.
Dare County Manager
PO Box 1000
Manteo, NC 27954
(252) 473-1817 fax
Bobby Outten, Dare County Manager/Attorney
Thanks for your quick reply. I would never expect the county or Mr. Johnson to turn over records that are deemed personal. However, I continue to believe that Commissioner Johnson has not provided the county with proper documents to substantiate refundable expenditures made by him in conjunction with his July trip to the NACo convention in Reno, NV.
I will try, as best I can, to set out my concerns regarding this matter.
(1) Commissioner Johnson waited until October 2010 to file his July 2010 Travel Expense form, when, according to county policy, the form was due by August 5th. Johnson has now filed and signed two July expense forms, one original and one amending the original. When asked by this writer why he waited so long to submit the form, Johnson said he thought his wife had taken care of it. I question how Ms. Johnson could have taken care of it, without his knowledge, given he is required to sign the form. In addition, Mr. Johnson did not submit his travel form until after I started making my public records inquiry.
(2) I am concerned about how the assistant clerk to the board could have made the "per diem" mistake on Johnson's form, given the fact of her experience and tenure working with the board.
(3) I am very concerned that your office and the finance office has accepted Johnson's online computer printout of a "cost of travel inquiry" (via http://www.travelocity.com/) for his trip from Norfolk, VA to Reno, NV when, (1) the printout does not constitute a "receipt" for payment as required by the county travel policy. In fact, the printout does not verify that the tickets were even booked, and it states such directly beneath the price quote on the printout. (2) the travel cities, both outbound and inbound do not match up with the travel cities shown on the airline baggage tickets Johnson has submitted with his claim. I have discussed these details with you, at length, and you still insist that Johnson's records are above reproach. In addition, your assistant, David Clawson, Finance Officer, who signed and approved Johnson's claim has refused to return email and phone inquiries.
(4) As I told you, I took the liberty of calling United Airlines, Delta Airlines and US Airways, whose ticket (passenger) numbers were listed on the baggage tickets (public documents) that Johnson submitted. Johnson's travel expense form states that he flew from Reno, back to Norfolk, VA, via Los Angles and Detroit. However, the Delta agent states the ticket holder flew back via Salt Lake City and Atlanta. In addition, the Delta agent has told me the "cost" of the ticket, which I prefer not to disclose at the present time, other than to say the figure given me was not what I would have expected. I have to ask again, why didn't you and/or Mr. Clawson question the lack of a receipt? Why hasn't Johnson been willing to explain it?
(5) In addition, according to Johnson's expense form, he flew through Chicago and San Francisco on route to Reno on July 16th. However, using United Airline's documentation number off Johnson's baggage ticket (public record) the airline representative stated they have no record of Johnson flying out of Norfolk on that date. They also stated the actual passenger ticket # listed on the baggage check belongs to US Air. The city of origin on that ticket had been covered up with a "sticky tab" and is unreadable. This concerns me.
(6) In reviewing the documents covering Johnson's registration for the conference, someone has written at the bottom of the form that Johnson was due to fly out on July 15th. Yet, his expense report shows he flew out on July 16th, the date that the airline agent could not confirm.
(7) I am concerned that the county chose to pay for two personal tours taken by Commissioner Johnson while he attended the conference. Records show that Johnson was supposed to have been in Reno for four full days, excluding flight days. Yet, one day, the county paid for a 7 hour (9:00/4:00 pm.) tour for Johnson of the "Scenic Lake Tahoe" area. Another day, the county paid for a 5 hour (9:30/2:30 pm.) tour for Johnson of the towns of Carson City and Genoa, NV). I do not believe these tours had anything to do with official county business. Yet, Mr. Clawson signed the approval and you have stated that you relied on staff advice that it was OK to pay it. This concerns me very much.
In closing, I am very concerned that someone in Dare County Government
(1) did not inquire, before I got involved, as to why Johnson had not filed his July expense after a three month period of delinquency,
(2) and, why you, the county manager, had to email him in October in order to get him to submit "other documentation" for items he had charged on his county credit card for the same trip.
(3) and, why you and/or the county finance officer did not require Johnson to submit a proper "receipt" for payment of his airline tickets, the price of which is very much in question.
(4) and, why the county is paying for "personal tours" taken by commissioners which are not a part of their official travel agenda.
(5) and why Commissioner Johnson decided to spend over $3,000 on this trip at essentially the same time he and the other members of the board were pleading hard times with the county budget and raising property taxes.
I do not feel that your office nor Commissioner Johnson has adequately explained these concerns to me or the public at-large. As I explained to you on the telephone yesterday, it is not my goal to cast an undue or unfair shadow upon Mr. Johnson or Dare County government. Unfortunately, this situation begs for questions that, to date, have gone unanswered.