Atlanta City Council seeks to limit abuse of government credit cards

The Atlanta City Council is taking up legislation on Tuesday that cracks down on lavish spending with city cards.

The Atlanta City Council is taking up legislation on Tuesday that cracks down on lavish spending with city cards.

Champagne would be a no, no. So would dry cleaning, along with cash advances.

Last year, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Channel 2 Action News reported on taxpayers picking up the tab for $10,000 hotel stays in Paris, $900 steak dinners and $2,400 political donations — all purchased with city issued credit cards.

Now the Atlanta City Council is taking up legislation that cracks down on lavish spending with city cards.

The ordinance, which is up for consideration at Tuesday’s council meetting, prohibits all spending that isn’t directly related to city business.

Perhaps more significantly, it identifies a laundry list of banned purchases: dry cleaning, alcohol and tobacco, plane tickets for family members, cash advances, gift cards, calling cards, memberships at wholesale warehouses, in-room hotel movies and mechanical repairs for personal vehicles.

Most, if not all, of the items listed were examples of inappropriate purchases under former Mayor Kasim Reed's administration uncovered by the AJC and Channel 2. The news organizations' reporting also became the subject of subpoenas from federal prosecutors investigating corruption at City Hall.

“We thought it would be best to indicate things that you can not use the card for so we can all be clear on that,” Youlanda Carr, the city’s controller, told the city council’s Finance Executive Committee last week.

Deputy Chief Financial Officer John Gaffney told the committee the ordinance, which was sponsored by Council members Andre Dickens and J.P. Matzigkeit, would be first time the council has put restrictions on credit card use into the city code.

Earlier this month, Atlanta's ethics office filed a complaint alleging the city's former top financial officer, Jim Beard, charged nearly $150,000 in potentially improper expenses to his city-issued credit card from 2014 to 2018.

Beard repaid the city $10,000 for a hotel stay at the Shangri-La in Paris after the AJC requested his credit card bills under the Georgia Open Records Act.

Reed repaid $12,000 to the city for various purchases after an AJC records request.

The bills showed that Beard, Reed and members of Reed’s cabinet racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in questionable charges on luxury airfare, lodging and at high-end restaurants across the globe.

Reed alone charged more than $150,000 on his card during his final year in office, and his executive protection officers regularly picked up dry cleaning and fast food meals for him.

The ordinance up for discussion on Tuesday limits the issuance of city credit cards to five city departments: the mayor’s office, law, airport, police and corrections.

The proposed legislation would also require that the city’s chief financial officer provide quarterly reports to the city council about the credit card program.

City officials who misuse their cards could be subject to disciplinary action, including termination, according to the ordinance.

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