Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Carmel on the Case: Suspicious Spending
Many of us wonder exactly how our tax dollars are being spent. Well, in the town of Davie, some suspicious spending has become highly debatable. Now for the first time, we have gone through records documenting charges for everything from fine dining to donuts. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On The Case.
WSVN -- Over the past few weeks, the Davie town council has been wrestling with its budget for next year.
But it's not just future spending that's being scrutinized. Past spending has now become an issue for the town.
Lori Parrish: "I don't believe that any of you knew, and certainly I didn't know, that this kind of money was being expended."
Broward property appraiser Lori Parrish lives and pays taxes in Davie.
She reviewed spending records and criticized the council for not paying attention to the bottom line.
Lori Parrish: "As a resident of Davie, I was shocked to find out there is a total lack of internal control."
At issue is spending on city credit cards. I went through thousands of entries and discovered Davie does a lot of shopping and eating.
At local grocery stores, the bills add up to tens of thousands of dollars over a three year period. Charges at dozens of restaurants range from less than $50 to more than a $1,000.
Then there are the donuts.
We figure Davie taxpayers have paid for close to 2,000 donuts.
There's $1,600 for flowers, more than $20,000 at department stores and thousands more for party supplies.
There's even a charge for car detailing.
Finally, there's the continuing education program, which Parrish called outrageous.
Lori Parrish: "To spend $24,000 to send a planner to law school is in my opinion unforgivable. It's out of control and should be stopped immediately."
In fact, the city has spent more than $500,000 over the last three years for 134 workers' education.
Mayor Tom Truex would later tell me he's concerned that the town is training people for their next job.
Tom Truex: "We do have a very generous policy for reimbursement for educational expenses. I didn't realize it was that generous."
So generous, in fact, that one employee has even received more than $38,000 to pay for her education.
When I asked for an explanation of some of the credit card bills, especially all of those grocery store charges, the city told me it would be time consuming to look up the records, and they would not meet the deadline for this report.
On Monday night, the council chamber was packed for the final budget hearing.
At the meeting, the mayor said the town has a "perfectly adequate" system for tracking cash and credit card purchases.
Tom Truex: "I've heard a lot about what these charges are, but what I haven't seen is evidence of any abuse."
And while some other residents questioned town spending, it was the apprasier who tangled with the mayor.
Tom Truex: "Here's what I have issue with, Ms. Parrish. You have issue with me as mayor. I have some big issues with some of the things you've done."
When it was all said and done, the council was left with a very clear message: pass the budget, but don't pass the buck when it comes to accountability.
If you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Miami-Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or in Broward at 954-921-CLUE