EOD had some time yesterday to begin reviewing about 15 months of Dare County Commissioner and County Manager travel records which were obtained following a public records request. So far, it has been disappointing to find the manner in which these records are maintained by the county.
As far as we can tell the commissioner's office has no well laid out filing arrangement for the records. EOD talked with the clerk and deputy clerk to the board. The clerk told us she kept a copy of any monthly travel reports she or the deputy clerk received. Those reports represent out-of-pocket expenses claimed for reimbursement by the commissioners. In some instances we found that the clerks signed the commissioners' name to the forms before handing them over to finance for payment. They kept no record of credit card expenditures make by the commissioners.
During the 15 month period, beginning July 1, 2009 until September 30, 2010, the commissioners used county issued Visa and American Express credit cards in incurring expenses. Copies of those expenditures are maintained in the county manager's office, where the manager's administrative assistant was constantly having to contact the commissioners for copies of receipts to match the monthly bills.
Copies of expenses from both offices eventually ended up in the county finance office for payment. However, there is no indication the two sets of records were ever teamed into one file and kept in the commissioner's office. In EOD's opinion this should be done and each commissioner should have a complete folder of expenses, easily obtainable and easily readable. Again, this does not seem to be the case.
It appears the finance office does the best it can to appropriate the expense charges to individually assigned commissioner accounts within the general fund budget.
At this point, EOD is simply reading through the mass of papers turned over by the county. And, it is fair to say we are shocked by what we are finding.
As a preface to further comment, we will point out that about 5 years ago, in lieu of requiring monthly expense reports for in-county expenditures (travel, etc.), the commissioners decided to award themselves a flat amount ($3600 per year for commissioners/$4800 per year for chairman) and not require monthly reporting. In addition, they allocated $30,000 per year for the entire board for out-of-county travel. That amount has been dropped to $24,000 for the current fiscal year.
For starters, county residents might find it comforting to know that after the June 21st board meeting where this year's austere budget and tax increase was passed, that the board found enough money to treat themselves to a $170.23 evening meal at The Dunes Restaurant after the meeting adjourned. And before you get too upset, EOD will say that was $4.00 cheaper than the $174.64 they spent eating at the Fisherman's Wharf on the day of the June 7th meeting.
A point of interest that is worth mentioning is, if there was a quorum at those dinners, it could have been an illegal meeting. And, if it was a social event, then it wasn't county business and should not have been charged to the cards. Furthermore, their $300/$400 per month stipend should have amply paid for their individual meals. Dining out, after the bimonthly meetings, seems to be a common occurrence by the board, with the meal charges being put on the county manager's credit card. More on this later.
When EOD got to the $468.31 per night, per commissioner hotel rooms in Washington, DC, along with the fine dinners at Ruth's Chris steakhouse, we had to stop and rest. There's more, and as we have said, if this board is pleading hard times with the county budget, why on earth don't they feel it when they are spending our money.