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Jury Criticizes Use of County Credit Cards

May 12, 2000|GINA PICCALO

The Ventura County Grand Jury issued a report Thursday that criticizes county Controller Tom Mahon and the General Services Agency for failing to audit employee spending, an oversight that apparently has led to improper use of credit cards distributed by county agencies.

After a 10-month review of the county's use of "procurement cards," the grand jury has recommended that agencies limit spending for staff and keep closer tabs on how the accounts are used.

In 1997, the county began distributing the cards, which are issued by Rocky Mountain Bank in Colorado, the report states.

The cards replaced purchase order checks, and county officials believed they would ultimately save money and time. Now, about 308 employees hold credit cards, according to the report.

But the grand jury report states that the auditor-controller's office "has neither the time nor the personnel to reconcile individual transactions" and that "such follow-up is at times met with resistance" by supervisors in county agencies.

It also states that the General Services Agency neglected to monitor the program for abuse and misuse.

The report says county staff apparently violated purchasing procedures in buying office supplies, a fax machine, hotel accommodations and computer hardware, and that the violations were not properly addressed. The apparent violations were not detailed.

At least one employee holds 23 credit cards with a combined monthly limit of more than $200,000 for doing business with more than 20 vendors, the report states.

No detailed audits have been conducted since the program began, the report states.

Mahon said his office will respond to the report within 90 days. The chief administrative office and General Services Agency also have up to 90 days to respond to the report.

Grand jury foreman Marvin J. Reeber and General Services Agency Director John Johnston were unavailable for comment.

Mahon said limited audits are already conducted, but more review of the grand jury's report and county's current system are needed "to determine the magnitude of the problem."

"We certainly will make any corrections and any adjustments that are appropriate," he said.

He said detailed audits are difficult to conduct because he is severely understaffed.

Supervisor John K. Flynn said the credit cards shouldn't be issued to employees in the first place.

"I'd like to see people pay their own way and make a claim to the county," he said. "They have more accountability."

The grand jury investigates various county and city government agencies. Although it also issues indictments, it has no penalty powers in criminal matters.

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