Spending accountability needed in Calhoun Falls
Tuesday, March 25, 2014 12:00 AM
To some, the reimbursement of a few thousand dollars to members of a town council might seem innocuous enough, and in the greater scheme of things it probably is. For the most part.
In Calhoun Falls, however, the problem has less to do with the total amount reimbursed and more to do with the method of reimbursement. It also has to do with the fact one councilman alone received 64 percent of the total.
Town Council would be wise to move quickly to change its method of payment for travel and meals related to town business, especially in light of the fact rulings from numerous attorneys general say per diem reimbursement runs counter to their interpretation of state law. Council operated on a per diem basis, but attorney general offices have long ruled reimbursement should be based on actual expenses incurred by town public officials, and should be backed up with receipts.
The Index-Journal reviewed council's reimbursements for a two-year period, between January 2012 and February 2014, and discovered the town was operating on the per diem reimbursement plan. Councilwoman Mindy Rogers appears to be leading the charge to bring the town's policy in alignment with recommendations from the attorney general's office, which would then result in council being reimbursed for actual expenses. Additionally, she supports putting caps on those expenses, which certainly is wise. For example, a member of council attending a state municipal association seminar might get a Ruth's Chris steak dinner, with all the a la carte side items and a few drinks. The actual expenses for that meal would easily reach $100 or more. That would be an unreasonable expenditure for a dinner on the taxpayers' dime, and so we would agree there should be a ceiling applied to meals. Hotels usually offer discounted rates for such events, which should be the only actual rate covered. If a councilman wanted to upgrade to a finer room, he should have to cover that cost. And it should go without saying that other expenses, such as movies and in-room food and beverages, should not be tacked onto that hotel stay. Those are not costs the town's taxpayers would expect or should be expected to cover.
That said, one of the most disturbing bits of information discovered is that Councilman Charlie Tillman received more than $2,300 in reimbursements during that timeframe, the majority of which could not be accounted for because there is little in the way of a receipt trail. Despite the requirement the town has for receipts, the majority of the two years of reimbursements were largely unaccounted for, meaning the town not only needs to revise its policies to be in line with the attorney general's opinion, but also it needs to adhere to what policies are already in place.
And Calhoun Falls residents, you need to demand more accountability from your elected and appointed officials. After all, it's your money they're spending. And given the lack of receipts, there's a darn good chance they're not always spending your money on official business.