As reported by Hannah Morgan in the MDJ last week, the city has no formal policy for the use of city-issued credit cards. None, unless you count a single sentence in the city charter that says the mayor and city council after presenting itemized vouchers shall be reimbursed for their “actual and necessary expenses” in the performance of their duties. Beyond that, it is whatever the mayor and members decide is “necessary” and — most importantly — it is after the fact. Dumb.
Mayor Mark Matthews’s response to the no-policy policy was a bit high-handed. He told Morgan, “It would be a waste of time to document reimbursements” and added that failure to do so might upset “the idiots that like to look at the nickels-and-dimes stuff.” So, does asking elected officials to document how they are spending taxpayer money make We the Unwashed “idiots?” Dumber.
Former Mayor Leonard Church, running for a seat against Councilman Bruce Jenkins (who has charged $6,500 since January), doesn’t get it, either. He told the MDJ that a credit card policy isn’t necessary.
“We are all grownups here,” he says. “It’s not the card’s fault; it is the one using it.” Precisely. That is why you need a policy, to be sure the adults among them don’t do something dumb like buying a $30 guidebook to the National Cathedral as did Mr. Jenkins, saying he hoped to teach Kennesaw Youth Council members about the cathedral.
Let’s not tell this grownup that the kids can find more information about the National Cathedral online faster than he can turn the pages of his book and it doesn’t cost them $30 to do it. Otherwise, he is liable to take big-time advantage of Kennesaw’s no-policy credit card policy. (“Hello. Is this Amazon? I’d like to buy the Internet, please. Do you take American Express?”)
I wonder if the grownups have considered a scenario in which they might be at a trade show in, say, New Orleans looking over used Civil War locomotives and accidentally end up in some honky-tonk on Bourbon Street, wearing funny hats and beads and drinking Hurricanes. Before the evening is over, they decide to buy a three-legged goat and a box of frogs and charge it to the taxpayers.
At the next city council meeting, I assume they would face their perplexed constituents and defiantly justify their decision. (“What is the big honking deal here? It is just as we said. It wasn’t the credit card’s fault. It was the grownups. After the third Hurricane, we decided that what Kennesaw needed was a three-legged goat and a box of frogs. No rules against that. Anybody here want a frog?”)
What the Kennesaw card sharps fail to recognize — or maybe “accept” is a better word — is that theirs is a public trust and being able to spend the taxpayer’s dollar however they wish without institutional controls in place further erodes our trust in the political process. From their “let ’em eat cake” responses, I’m not sure they really care.
After getting caught with his policy drawers down, Matthews did what all righteously-indignant politicians do. He blamed it on the press.
“I have always understood the necessity of communicating with members of the press,” he said. “I have responded to questions without strict filters because I trusted that my answers would be reported accurately and in the context of the conversation. It is a sad statement on journalism that comments I made are twisted and manipulated to satisfy some unknown hidden agenda. If the press is looking for corruption in Kennesaw, they won’t find it.”
Nobody has said anything about corruption, Mr. Mayor. The issue is a non-existent policy that allows you and your city council members to spend public money — not your money, but public money — any way you choose. Even a three-legged goat will tell you that this can invite future misappropriation of funds and corruption. Journalism is not the sad statement here; it is the lack of oversight in the city of Kennesaw’s fiscal governance policies.
The press didn’t cause this brouhaha. Kennesaw city officials brought it on themselves with their no-policy credit card policy. I would suggest that the grownups change their rules sooner rather than later.
To refuse to is dumb. To think the issue is going away is dumber. For the citizens of Kennesaw to let their elected officials get by with this stuff is the dumbest.
You can reach Dick Yarbrough at firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 725373, Atlanta, Georgia 31139.