Are Town Councilors Spending Too Much?

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City council members in Surprise recently voted to de-activate their own town credit cards. The action was prompted by one council member under investigation for using his card for personal expenditures.

This story prompted the Roundup to see how much our own town council spends.

Payson's mayor and council received town credit cards, called Procurement cards or P-cards, this past March. Since some expenditures were not put on the P-cards, we requested all receipts for reimbursements as well.

The top spender for the period spanning about one year was Robert Henley.

A majority of Henley's expenses were related to classes he attended as part of the Southwest Leadership Conference. Henley also used his airplane to transport town staff on three occasions, and was the only councilor whose cell phone bill is paid by the town.

Dick Reese came in second. Reese charged a total of 27 meals to the town, which included eight at Cucina Paradiso, entertained at the prestigious Jonathan Club in Los Angeles, and attended several conferences in the Valley.

Reese and Henley together spent more than the rest of the council combined.

Deputy Town Manager and Chief Fiscal Officer Glenn Smith said nearly all town employees have P-cards at their disposal, but each card is programmed to allow certain purchases.

"The card will be rejected if someone not authorized to buy a meal tries to use the card at a restaurant," Smith said. "I get notification that they tried to use the card at a restaurant."

Town councilors have no such restrictions on their cards, Smith said.

The guidelines state that the card shall not be used for personal purchases or any type of cash advance.

"The council has no policy of their own on how much each one can spend -- there's no oversight," Smith said. "From my department, I try to watch what staff spends, but for council you don't have that. You don't have an internal or external policy."

This fiscal year, the town council has $23,000 at their disposal for things such as conferences, travel and trainings. In the 2001-2002 budget, that amount was $13,500, in the 2002-2003 budget, it was $25,000.

Town Manager Fred Carpenter said he, too, has no authority on how councilors use their cards.

"I work for the council, so other council members are the only ones who can set policy," Carpenter said. "We don't have the ability to question the expenditures -- that's up to other council members."

Council considering spending policy

Smith said some councilors have discussed putting a policy in place that would dictate some spending guidelines.

"That's something they want developed and put in the Corporate Strategic Plan," Smith said. "They are looking at a policy that would give them some direction."

Smith said some councilors have different philosophies on spending.

"Things such as meeting with constituents or doing economic development -- some (councilors) feel they should pay that out of their own pockets and some can afford to do that and some cannot," Smith said. "They are wanting some guidance, such as whether we should divide money equally among council members. They are asking those questions. Some (councilors) are more active than others and what happens if someone wants to do something and then they find someone has used all the funds up," Smith said. "Having some kind of policy is a way to keep the heat off of one against another. It also gives the public an idea of what their elected officials spend, which puts a little more pressure on them because they have fiscal parameters -- at least everybody knows what they can and can't do."

"I've got to find a model out there from a community that has already bit the bullet and enacted a policy," Smith said. "That's something I'll be doing after the first of the year. We'll draft something and run it through council before we get finished with the upcoming budget process."

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