Stanislaus County Supervisor rankled by use of county credit cards

kcarlson@modbee.comJune 24, 2014 

Stanislaus County Supervisor Bill O’Brien called Tuesday for the chief executive officer to look into county staff use of purchasing cards.

A report from Auditor-Controller Lauren Klein found violations of the county’s purchasing card policies in 15 of 19 departments reviewed by her office. Among the audit findings for the 2011-12 fiscal year were no itemized receipts for eight purchases totaling $1,784, employees paying for unnecessary hotel stays the night before training and delayed charges for rental cars.

Since 1996, the county has issued purchasing cards to department heads and other staff as an efficient way to pay for travel expenses and supplies. Lax oversight or misuse of credit cards has caused embarrassment for county leaders in the past.

O’Brien asked for a presentation on the most recent audit, which was on Tuesday’s consent agenda for routine approval. He wanted Chief Executive Officer Stan Risen to find out if the county had been reimbursed for purchases that violated policy and whether stronger rules are needed.

The audit found that 11 departments failed to do a required annual review on the need for credit cards issued to them and the purchasing limit on cards. County leaders have especially wanted managers to justify cards with a limit of more than $5,000. More than 1,000 county credit cards are active in more than 30 county departments, divisions or related agencies.

According to the audit, 33 monthly reports to reconcile credit card purchases were not signed or dated, so there was no way of knowing whether employees were reconciling their own purchases. Two employees were doing their own monthly credit card reports, rather than administrative staff doing them.

In the District Attorney’s Office, receipts were missing for seven purchases totaling $1,403, including an airplane ticket, meals and lodging. The report said missing receipts – or a lack for forms to account for missing receipts – is a recurring problem in the District Attorney’s Office. The department was criticized for missing documentation in the 2010-11 audit.

In a response, the District Attorney’s Office said some of the receipts had been found, and additional staff training was promised.

The audit concluded that two Probation Department employees should reimburse the county for charging hotel stays, totaling $428, the night before attending training. Klein said the two employees could have driven to the Sacramento Regional Public Safety Training Center on the day of the training. The Probation Department’s response said management approved the hotel expenses because the employees were traveling to “unfamiliar locations.”

Klein said the county disallows hotel expenses when it’s easy for staff to drive to places such as Sacramento for training or conferences. She noted that lodging is approved for Bay Area conferences because of freeway traffic.

The report also suggested that former Chief Probation Officer Jerry Powers should repay the county $142 for not using a hotel room booked for a conference. Powers did not stay one of the four nights in the hotel because he attended a local county meeting. The department replied that the local meeting was unexpected and Powers could not get a hotel refund.

Two probation employees failed to follow procedures when they charged $72 for groceries when they trained outside Fresno for three days. Klein said the trainees had a half-hour lunch break and the closest food service was 20 minutes away, but they needed county CEO approval to buy the groceries.

The audit results were not particularly worse than previous years’ reports, but “there are some recurring issues,” Klein said. “The issue with missing receipts has been communicated several times.”

The report also questioned $542 for rental cars that were charged to a Community Services Agency credit card 31/2 months after the expense was incurred. Such delays increase the risk of duplicated charges on credit cards. The agency replied that it tried to get an explanation from the rental car business, which has a purchasing agreement with the county.

Klein’s office does an annual report on county credit cards to ensure procedures are followed and employees are not using them to buy personal items. The recent audit looked at almost 2,100 transactions totaling $438,416.

In 2003, the county deducted $20,120 from the final paycheck for former Chief Executive Officer Reagan Wilson because of disallowed county credit card purchases. The county also confiscated items worth about $4,000 including furniture, computers and a digital camera from Wilson, who resigned under a storm of controversy that year.

Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at kcarlson@modbee.com or (209) 578-2321.

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