Hartford Mayor Proposes Ban On City Credit Card Entertainment Charges
Chief Of Staff Says He'll Reimburse City For $707 Dinner That Included Caviar, Oysters
By JENNA CARLESSO
May 06, 2013
HARTFORD— Mayor Pedro Segarra said Monday he would ban the use of all city-issued credit cards for business-related entertainment, following a recommendation by the city's internal audit commission.
The commission, after reviewing more than 400 purchases made with the credit cards, recommended better oversight and enforcement of spending policies, and urged a ban on use of the cards for dining and entertainment. The group's report on the purchasing cards was released Friday.
"In accordance with the recommendation by the internal auditors, I am eliminating the use of any and all [purchasing] cards for 'business entertainment,'" Segarra said. "The finance department will remove all applicable merchant category codes for dining and restaurants effective immediately."
Segarra said he supports the audit and looks forward to working with the finance department, the audit commission and others to implement changes and improve oversight.
"I have always tried to do what is right for Hartford," Segarra said. "I want the people of Hartford to know that I am out there on their behalf every single day and will continue to be in the months and years ahead."
The audit commission also suggested that the city council get a legal opinion on whether a $707 New Year's Eve dinner at Max Downtown attended by Segarra, his chief of staff, Jared Kupiec, and others — which was charged to Kupiec's city credit card — violates the city's code of ethics.
Kupiec said Monday that he would reimburse the city $457.21 for the dinner, and Segarra has said he reimbursed the city for a portion of the bill as well.
The charge stemmed from a dinner for eight people, Segarra has said: himself; his spouse; Kupiec; a female guest of Kupiec's; Chief Operating Officer Saundra Kee Borges; two members of the Hartford Police Department who were providing security for the mayor that evening; and an eighth person. The meal was put on a city purchasing card because the group was working at First Night in Hartford, Segarra said.
An itemized receipt of the dinner shows that the attendees dined on caviar, oysters, rack of lamb and cheesecake, among other things.
"Over the last few weeks much has been made about a New Year's Eve dinner that was partially paid for with my city of Hartford purchasing card," Kupiec said Monday. "Because of the distraction that it has caused, and after speaking with the mayor, I will be immediately reimbursing the city of Hartford in the amount of $457.21."
"There are too many other more significant matters that leadership in the capital city needs to focus its attention on," he continued. "Those in public service should and need to be held to a high standard and I truly apologize to city staff, residents and anyone else who has been unfairly consumed with this issue."
City Council President Shawn Wooden said Monday that he was pleased Kupiec had reimbursed the city for the dinner, but disappointed that it was billed to the taxpayers in the first place.
"We have a city where some people can't eat a meal every day or don't know where their next meal is coming from and we have taxpayer dollars being used to purchase caviar, oysters and champagne," he said. "It's deeply disturbing."
Asked whether the council would seek a legal opinion about the New Year's Eve dinner, Wooden replied: "I would still consider hiring an attorney for the ethics opinion, but I'm reluctant to incur a greater expense to pursue this. I believe that the reimbursement is certainly an acknowledgment that it's not appropriate."
Councilman Kenneth Kennedy said Segarra's elimination of the entertainment charges on city credit cards is a good start, but more reform is needed.
"Does that change other things with respect to the casual use of these cards? No," he said Monday. "It's an important first step the mayor has proposed, but it doesn't end the discussion. If the entertainment charges don't include travel — that's a problem."
Kennedy said the purchasing card charges should be reviewed by an independent source, rather than a department head. He said the council might be a better alternative for reviewing the cards than the city's finance department.
"I think you just have to make sure the people doing the verifying don't have an interest or connection to the person doing the purchasing," he said. "An independent person or body would be able to do so without fear of losing their job."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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