That story showed that Mayor Mark Mathews and various council members have been, to quote the story, “wining, dining, dressing and traveling at the expense of the city’s taxpayers” for at least the past two years.
The closest the city has to such a policy is a sentence in the city charter that states that the mayor and council members, after presenting itemized vouchers, shall be reimbursed for their “actual and necessary expenses” in the performance of their duties.
Aside from that, it’s up to the individual officials to determine what is “reasonable” to use their cards on, said several council members.
They clearly have been using a liberal definition of what’s “reasonable,” if the $23,000 they’ve charged so far this year for meals, hotels and the like is any indication.
So what types of spending have city taxpayers been reimbursing as of late? How about:
• $8,000 that the mayor spent on restaurant tabs, iPad accessories, flights to conventions and other events between December 2012 and September of this year. That spending by the mayor included $1,835 for lapel pins he handed out to players on the Kennesaw Mountain and North Cobb High School football teams to commemorate the first time they played in Kennesaw State University’s stadium.
• $6,500 spent by Councilman Bruce Jenkins since January, the most of the five council members. Indeed, some of Jenkins’ spending would be laughable were it not public money he was wasting on items like $25 for frozen yogurt during a trip to Washington, D.C., and $30 for a guidebook he bought there to the National Cathedral. His excuse? He told the Journal he hopes to teach Kennesaw Youth Council members about the cathedral, if he ever brings them to Washington. As a reader commenting as “Voter in Kennesaw” aptly put it on the MDJOnline.com website, “I think Jenkins under estimates our youth of today. If he wanted them to learn about the National Cathedral just let them go online to find all the info they needed, and it is free. Jenkins spent $30 of taxpayers’ money for something that is free online.”
Almost as bad as the casual approach about spending was the mayor’s disinterest in documenting it.
“It would be a waste of time to document reimbursements,” Mathews said, adding that the failure to do so might upset “the idiots that like to look at the nickels and dimes stuff.”
The “idiots” like reporters and editors and taxpayers.
But the city’s casual attitude about council spending predates Mathews. Former Mayor Leonard Church (who’s now running against Jenkins), told the MDJ a credit card policy isn’t necessary.
“We are all grown-ups here,” he said. “It is not the card’s fault, it is the one using it.”
True enough. But this is an era when government transparency and accountability are paramount and in which examples are too numerous to list of elected officials guilty of financial shenanigans. Kennesaw’s blanket policy of issuing credit cards to all of its elected officials is one copied by few if any other jurisdictions that we know of. And it’s doubly hard to justify in the absence of rigorous guidelines for their use.
Kennesaw’s “trust us” approach does almost nothing to protect taxpayers from potentially abusive credit-card use by the mayor and council. That city’s taxpayers deserve better.