What is an acceptable amount of money for city officials to spend on meals and other expenses while out of town on official city business? It’s a question that has thus far remained unanswered. But after several city commissioners have turned in some fairly large expenditures recently, the city fathers are discussing a solution.
For the last several years, more than a few people have mentioned this to me. In a number of conversations I’ve had – all off the record, of course – I have been asked to request the expense reports officials have turned in after returning from trips.
A few weeks ago, I did.
I submitted an open records request to the city that asked for the expense reports turned in by each official who attended the Georgia Municipal Association’s annual conference in June. All but two elected officials attended the conference. Commissioner Bob Moore and Mayor Tony Paulk were not there.
Here are the expenditures for each commissioner, listed in alphabetical order:
- McDonalds (6/22) -- $18.82
- Boiling Seafood (6/22) -- $111.12
- Barracuda Bob’s (6/23) -- $53.02
- Waffle House (6/24) -- $20.83
- Boiling Seafood (6/24) -- $56.60
- Shrimp Factory (6/26) -- $47.35
- Boiling Seafood (6/27) -- $134.48
- Boiling Seafood (6/27) -- $67.41
- Lodging -- $1,170 (Hyatt, 6/22-6/27)
- Olive Garden (6/23) -- $49
- Longhorn Steakhouse (6/24) -- $50
- Chik-fil-A (6/25) -- $8.91
- Fairfield Inn (6/22)
- Comfort Inn and Suites (6/23-6/25)
- Total -- $366.40
- Parking -- $5
- Chik-fil-a (6/22) – $7.26
- Chik-fil-a (6/23) -- $9.15
- American Deli (6/23) -- $8.55
- Panda Express (6/24) -- $8.35
- Hyatt Regency (6/22-6/23) – $666.39
- Tips (6/22-6/24) -- $25
- Carey Hilliard’s (6/21) -- $59.59
- Blue Restaurant (6/22) -- $59.76
- Atrium (6/22) -- $31.80
- Boiling Seafood (6/25) -- $104.99
- Blue Restaurant (6/24) -- $83.68
- Lodging: Marriott Riverfront (6/21-6/26) : $1,041
- Parking (6/21-6/24) -- $48
- Gift shop (6/22) -- $19.26 (The expense report does not state what Commissioner Pearson purchased at the gift shop.)
- Ruth Steakhouse (6/22) -- $71.69
- Tondee’s Tavern (6/23) -- $22.69
- Lady and Son’s (6/24) -- $39.58
- Moss and Oak (6/25) -- $23.49
- Tips: Commissioner Taylor listed tips for his meals on the meal line item. His total tips for the above meals were $28.
- Lodging: Hyatt Regency (6/22-6/25) -- $1,149.50
- Miscellaneous: Commissioner Taylor listed $45 for parking at the hotel and three expenditures of $10 each (6/22, 6/23, and 6/25).
Commissioner Durham stayed an extra night at his hotel. He stated he was planning to ride home with Commissioner Pearson. However, Commissioner Pearson became ill and had to be admitted to a Savannah hospital. The conference ended on Tuesday, June 26; she was supposed to get out of the hospital on Wednesday, June 27. She ended up staying in the hospital until the 28th, he said, which left him without a ride home. Commissioner Durham stated that he called City Hall and a city employee, Shania Smith, drove a city car to Savannah to bring him back to Douglas. The cost of gas for fetching Durham was $30.73.
I spoke with both Commissioner Durham and Mayor Paulk about the city’s policy for expenditures. Mayor Paulk said that the state’s per diem rate for meals was $173. The city, however, has no such policy in place, he said. Commissioner Durham said the same thing. “There’s no per diem or guidelines right now. But there needs to be a policy in place,” Durham stated.
According to Mayor Paulk, there have been a few recent discussions about this issue. While the commissioners have not officially made a decision, Mayor Paulk felt certain they would have a policy in place very soon.
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