Oakland wants to tighten up travel expenses

September 23, 2008 6:59:02 PM PDT
City leaders in Oakland are hopeful they can plug at least one of the financial leaks that's costing the city more than $1 million a year. That's how much department heads and city officials have spent on travel this past fiscal year. The city council is considering a moratorium on travel.

"A $1.2 million, it's probably more. I'm not sure it's complete," said Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente.

De La Fuente is talking about the amount of money city officials the police department and department heads spent on travel last year. On Tuesday, he and the rest of the finance committee of the council, met to discuss limiting travel and placing some strong guidelines and restrictions on how travel money is spent.

"I was shocked. I thought that people going off for a week-long conference. That's a long time in Florida," said Jane Brunner, an Oakland City Council member.

The committee reviewed the yearly expense report. They found that the police department spent more than $425,000 on travel.

Police representative Peter Fitzsimmons explained that a third of that money is reimbursed by the state. The rest is for training and extraditing prisoners.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks racked up the most on a single trip, more than $3,000 to go to South Africa last year. She told ABC7 that she was too busy to comment on the issue. Council members are concerned that the $1.2 million is a low figure.

"Were not sure if this first report is complete or whether all the reports are in, if they're accurate," said Jean Quan, from the Oakland City Council.

In two weeks finance staff will develop guidelines for travel expenses. They will include: justification for all travel, assure travel is for city business, placing a cap on premium car rentals, a limit on meal reimbursements, itemizing, and disclosing group travel expenses.

While the city ponders travel expense guidelines the Alameda County Civil Grand Jury is also pouring through all expenses incurred by city workers and elected officials. Still, the grand jury can't force the city to make changes it deems necessary.

What the civil grand jury can do is make recommendations and ask the city whether or not it will implement them. ABC7News has learned that the issue is so complicated that the grand jury may not make a recommendation until it adjourns and that won't happen until June 2009.


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