An expanded investigation will be launched into how the former mayor of San Diego was able to charge thousands of dollars for a trip to Paris, France on a city-issued credit card even after the request was rejected by the city’s comptroller.
The procedure for approving charges on former Mayor Bob Filner’s P-card issued by the City of San Diego was circumvented and he charged $16,462 on the account that had previously carried a $5,000 limit.
Filner, former fiancée Bronwyn Ingram and two city security officers traveled to Villepinte, France in June.
Because the city-issued credit card had a limit of $5,000, City Comptroller Ken Whitfield was approached to increase the limit. However, he denied the request.
Instead, the charges were approved by a P-card administrator, city employees told the city’s audit committee Monday.
“We need to change that, we need to have additional checks and balances,” said City Councilmember Kevin Faulconer, the Audit Committee Chair.
“If approval was requested and approval was denied, how did it go through a different process,” Faulconer asked. “How is that allowed to happen because then there’s a problem on the checks and balances and the procedures.”
In July, Filner’s office revealed that the costs for the mayor’s trip to Paris totaled $31,363.
Nearly one-third of that – the expenses for Filner himself to travel – was paid for by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities. That included airfare that totaled $8,304, lodging that totaled $971 and meals totaling $564. Filner has said he was going to repay the OIAC.
Travel expenses for his security detail were paid by the City of San Diego and amounted to $16,462 in airfare, $3,183 in lodging and $1,599 in meals, according to the figures released by Filner’s office on Jul. 25.
“If the Chief Executive Officer asks you to do something that is not illegal, unethical or immoral, then we’re likely going to be following through with that request,” Assistant Chief Operating Officer Scott Chadwick said adding that there needs to be better internal controls.
Chadwick also said he believes the travel should not have been authorized.
“It does seem like there’s a lot of bureaucratic CYA going on and it’s really, I think, the reason we need to get this audit done,” said City Councilmember Scott Sherman.
The former mayor’s credit cards were canceled in April after it was discovered the mayor’s staff had not turned in receipts for more than four months, Whitfield said.
It was determined that $975 out of the $2,000 on the former mayor’s city card was for personal expenses.
Thousands of dollars were spent on personal items including a blender and personal lunches, Whitfield said.
The city was reimbursed for the personal charges with personal checks from Filner and his top aide Lee Burdick.
He said this was something he had not seen from a mayor before. “If you get to the executive rank in a business, you understand what a business credit card is for,” he said.
The France trip was initially said to be funded by the Organization of Iranian-American Communities (OIAC), believed to be a non-profit organization.
When questioned about the reasoning for the trip, Filner said it was about bringing jobs to San Diego.
Later, Filner’s office said the mayor was invited to speak at the OIAC’s 2013 Annual Conference for Democracy and also traveled to the city of Lille, France, where he was briefed on energy and sustainability programs that he would like to use as a model for San Diego.
City policy states economy class/coach was sought for all legs of the flight but business coach was obtained for the security detail, officials said.
State law says local elected officials may not accept gifts in excess of $440. However, if the trip has a "governmental or legislative" purpose, and it is paid for by a nonprofit, it falls under one of several loopholes.