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Tamarac will scrap $75,000 travel budget after watchdog warns of potential for fraud and waste


TAMARAC — After Broward’s top watchdog pointedly told Tamarac city officials their policy “encourages fraud, waste, and abuse,” city leaders agreed this week to repeal a rule that allows them $75,000 in city coffers to travel.

It is expected to get final approval as early as June.

In February 2021, the majority of the five-member City Commission voted to give themselves each an annual $15,000 expense account for local travel, without having to submit proof of how they spent the money and get staff approval for reimbursement for travel within 100 miles of City Hall.

Commissioner Marlon Bolton even tried to make the perk retroactive from the previous fall.

Although the $15,000 benefit — for a total of $75,000 — wasn’t spent, it stayed on the books, which allowed elected officials to use it in the future. That recently drew the criticism of Broward’s ethics czar, whose office is charged with rooting out public corruption.

Although the commission unanimously agreed Wednesday night to toss the policy that allows them to spend the money, not everyone agreed it was really needed.

“I don’t give much credence to the OIG [Office of Inspector General] report,” said Vice Mayor Mike Gelin. “This report is really about nothing. It’s about trying to slander the name of the city of Tamarac. I’m pretty disappointed in the OIG.”

He referenced the report’s finding that nobody on the commission has abused the travel policy, but didn’t mention that the City Commission didn’t spend any of the money amid the attention and public outcry last year; Gelin acknowledged he didn’t use his share because of the pandemic.

Others said it was time to immediately end the policy and be done: “When the OIG makes a suggestion, I don’t think there should be a lot of conversation,” said Commissioner Debra Placko.

The lavish travel budget was thrust into the spotlight when the South Florida Sun Sentinel exposed the spending plans last year. A string of news articles about even more perks followed, leading commissioners to stop their spending of the city coffers.

The county’s Inspector General responded with an investigation, determining last month that the city needed a plan because, moving forward, there would be no documentation to show how the politicians would use their share of the money, and if they use it for its intended purpose.

However, getting rid of the local travel budget does not affect the shared annual $55,000 out-of-town travel expense reimbursement fund.

Mayor Michelle Gomez, who asked the travel item be stricken from the books, said she wanted it repealed a long time ago, but didn’t have faith in her colleagues to take action without the inspector general’s report.

She said she had “a lack of confidence in this commission.”

Gomez said she was also putting her colleagues on notice that June 16, when budget conversations start, she’d be requesting the city rid itself of their $25,000 personal initiative, too.

The $25,000 spending account is another self-appointed commission perk. It’s a discretionary fund for each commissioner; at least one of them has previously dipped into it for office décor.

Bolton said he’d too ask for a benefit to be taken away. He said he’d like to address commission salaries and the $700 monthly car stipend. No receipts or documentation is required for payment.

Lisa J. Huriash can be reached at lhuriash@sunsentinel.com or 954-572-2008 or Twitter @LisaHuriash.



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