Hartford Councilors Want To Refer P-Card Audit To State For Investigation
By JENNA CARLESSO
May 08, 2013
HARTFORD —— City council members on Monday will introduce legislation calling for an audit of city-issued credit cards to be referred to the chief state's attorney's office and the Hartford Ethics Commission.
The measure, co-sponsored by Councilmen David MacDonald, Larry Deutsch and Kyle Anderson, also would authorize the hiring of an attorney to help recoup more than $30,000 in unsubstantiated purchasing card charges. The attorney would also render an opinion on whether city officials violated Hartford's code of ethics.
MacDonald, who drafted the legislation, said he was frustrated after learning that city officials, including Mayor Pedro Segarra, his chief of staff, Jared Kupiec, and six others, had billed the taxpayers for a $707 New Year's Eve dinner at which they ate caviar and rack of lamb, among other things. Segarra and Kupiec have since reimbursed the city for the meal.
His resolution, which will be raised at the council's next regularly scheduled meeting Monday, notes that "use of public funds for private gain, benefit and luxury is restricted by numerous state and municipal codes," and "maintaining the public's trust in city government and maintaining proper financial stewardship of public funds is of paramount concern."
"It's extremely disappointing to see this kind of behavior from the administration given the budget problems of the city," MacDonald said Wednesday. "You need your chief executive to set a good example for all city employees. [Segarra] certainly has not."
Hartford's internal audit commission, at the council's request, conducted a review of more than 400 purchases made with city credit cards over the course of nine months. The commission recommended better oversight and enforcement of spending policies, and urged a ban on use of the cards for dining and entertainment. It also noted, however, that the purchasing card program is beneficial to the city because it generates cost savings, and suggested keeping it in place.
Segarra said earlier this week that he would prohibit business-related entertainment charges on the cards.
Saundra Kee Borges, the city's chief operating officer, declined to comment.
Councilman Kenneth Kennedy, who works as an assistant attorney general, said his colleagues on the council would have to prove criminal intent for MacDonald's proposal to pass.
"I'm not sure it's criminal, but I am willing to listen to others who want to make the case," he said. "If it can be proven that there is a pattern of intent to use taxpayer money for personal gain, I could be persuaded to vote for it."
Chief State's Attorney Kevin T. Kane said Wednesday that departmental policy prohibits him from commenting on any cases his office is or may be investigating.
Bruce Rubenstein, an attorney who serves on the city's internal audit commission, sent an e-mail to the city council Friday recommending that members refer the credit card audit to the chief state's attorney's office.
"The repetitive nature of a lot of these charges, to me, [is] reasonable grounds to believe that possible crimes have been committed of a larcenous nature," Rubenstein said Wednesday.
Whether or not the credit card purchases are found to be criminal, MacDonald said, the proposal is intended to make a point.
"I just want to send a strong message that this type of behavior shouldn't be tolerated," he said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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