Arundel credit card records lacking

Some purchase logs, statements not filed in county's program

September 01, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

Nearly one-quarter of Anne Arundel County employees with active county government credit cards have not filed required monthly statements and purchase logs with the finance office, records show - a far higher percentage than previously reported.

Of 367 employees who use their cards regularly, 88 did not submit backup material for at least one month this year, according to a list released to The Sun under the Maryland Public Information Act.

The finance office has no backup records for five employees' accounts from January through June. Nor does it have paperwork for several other accounts covering three, four or five months' worth of bills. Those bills have been paid.

The statements and logs are supposed to help finance officials ensure that the cards are used for legitimate purchases.

The county's former warehouse supervisor, accused of misusing his card over several months and charged with felony theft, was among those whose monthly bills were paid by the county despite the lack of documentation.

The figures do not mean that employees are abusing the cards, which are designed to let workers purchase needed supplies quickly. Some employees said they did not submit statements because they made no purchases in a particular month. Others said they were never told to file the forms.

County Councilwoman Barbara D. Samorajczyk said she is troubled by the apparent lax oversight by county finance officials who continued to pay the bills.

"If we have people who haven't filed expense reports for six months, we don't have any idea what the level of abuse is," said Samorajczyk, an Annapolis Democrat. "To me, this is so basic, to manage credit card use."

Alfred Warfield, acting county comptroller and the head of finance, said this month that perhaps a half-dozen employees - in addition to Christopher Lee Middleton, the former warehouse supervisor - did not provide details of purchases.

With newly released records showing the number is many times that, the county administration called the situation unacceptable yesterday.

"It would seem high," said Fred G. Schram, chief of staff to County Executive Janet S. Owens. "That's why we have tightened up the procedures."

Last week, Owens announced new checks and balances aimed at preventing card-holders from going on personal spending sprees. At the same time, she dispatched a top budget official to the central services department to make sure policies are followed.

Begun as a pilot program in 1997, the use of county procurement cards has increased more than tenfold since then, mirroring a nationwide trend. During the first half of this calendar year, county employees charged $1.3 million in 12,025 transactions. The cards allow employees to avoid going through a lengthy procurement process.

Schram said the list of noncompliant employees was drawn up after the allegations about Middleton, who is accused by prosecutors of stealing $20,000 to $40,000 through personal purchases.

Asked why bills would have been paid on accounts for which proper procedure was not followed, Schram said, "I would credit that to an error in judgment."

As for why documents never reached finance official, he said, "It does appear there was a breakdown in the procedures."

Interviews with county employees and officials yielded a variety of explanations.

Harold Turner, a road maintenance supervisor who said he sometimes uses his card to buy chain saw blades, said he did not file statements or logs for months when he made no purchases. His forms are missing for every month this year but February and are missing for nine months last year, records show.

Turner is correct, said Schram: Statements or logs do not need to be filed if nothing is purchased.

One employee said no one told him to submit records, which is why he had not done so through June. The employee accepted part of the blame, saying he had been too busy to attend the credit card training sessions.

Another employee said she kept all her receipts and filled out logs but neglected to have the materials sent to finance officials.

"It wasn't my highest priority of the day," said Patricia Graefe, whose duties include buying supplies for the county Circuit Court. "But I kept it all. I had the whole log ready to go."

In other cases, employees apparently filled out the necessary forms, only to have them get lost in the bureaucracy.

That is what happened to several workers at the Department of Social Services.

The department's finance office never forwarded the paperwork to the Office of Finance, said Larry Housman, assistant director of social services. When the department tried to send it, the forms went to the wrong person, he said, "who sent it back to us."

Still, Housman said, "I think we're in pretty good shape. We didn't buy Lamborghinis or anything."

Owens spokesman Andrew C. Carpenter made the list twice, in December and January. He blamed a transition from one chief of staff to another for the oversight.

"They were filed," Carpenter said. "The logs were done, and statements were done. But they didn't make their way to finance."

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