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Audit Criticizes Education Chair's Rental Car

Posted November 27, 2007

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— State Board of Education Chairman Howard Lee could have saved the state more than $26,000 by leasing a car for official business rather than renting one in recent years, according to a state audit.

Lee also incorrectly received meal and travel reimbursements from the state Department of Public Instruction after he had been appointed to a seat on the state Utilities Commission, the audit found.

Because his work for the education board required frequent trips across the state, Lee rented a Chrysler 300 from Triangle Rent-a-Car from September 2004 to November 2006 and from Enterprise Rent-a-Car from February to June. The state spent $51,030 for the rentals, along with $6,070 in gas reimbursements to Lee, according to the audit.

Leasing a Chrysler from a local dealership for three years would have cost the state $30,655, including the gas reimbursement, for a $26,455 savings, the audit said.

In DPI's official response to the audit, Education Superintendent June Atkinson said department officials unsuccessfully tried to arrange for Lee to use a state car and chose the month-to-month rental cars because they weren't sure whether Lee could fulfill the three-year obligation of a car lease.

"In hindsight, given the chairman's extensive travels to address the significant reform issues facing our public schools, a lease would have been a more cost-effective option," Atkinson wrote. "At the time DPI was making decisions about the rental car, we could not anticipate events, and the shorter commitment seemed to be the more reasonable course."

Lee said he stopped renting cars for official use on Sept. 20.

The audit also said Lee shouldn't have received $9,523 in travel and meal expenses from DPI after April 2005, when he was appointed to the Utilities Commission. Serving on the Utilities Commission means Lee is considered a state employee and is ineligible for per diem reimbursements, the audit said.

Atkinson responded that DPI auditors combed through records and found that Lee was under-reimbursed for his work on the State Board of Education before joining the Utilities Commission. Lee has repaid the department the $2,343 difference between the under-reimbursements and the improper per diems, she said.

105 Comments

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  • radiovoiceusa Nov 28, 2007

    "Pleshy", you type with ignorance. "The Pink Palace", does not house just the Department Of Public Instrution. There are atleast 3 other state agencies in the building. The Department of Public Instrution recruits teachers for the local schools, makes sure people are licensed to teach, helps keep teachers and administrators up to date with federal and state education laws, and keep teachers informed in the fields of their teaching. We all make mistakes in life.

    The news here only wants you see the bad things that happen. It is very rare they show the good things.

  • twc Nov 27, 2007

    So what?!?!?!? Why should they care about saving money? It's not their money! Everybody party down!!!!

  • Phlootang Nov 27, 2007

    Which educators need a company car to travel to and from work? People commute with their own personal car between Chapel Hill and Raleigh everyday. Read the auditor’s report. A typical daily commute and short trips around Raleigh described Lee’s travels, not the fictional ‘trips across the state.’

    Those defending this ‘honorable’ man should explain why Lee deserves a benefit that no other state employee enjoys; because he ‘volunteered?’ With “volunteers” who cost the state $51,000, who needs paid employees? How much would it cost Durham to pay all reading volunteers travel money to and from the school? Most people don’t ask for such compensation because they are either bright enough to know better or because their integrity prevents such conditional good-will.

    Most prudent people would realize that using his own car for typical commuting would have revealed greater ‘integrity.’

  • retired and luv it Nov 27, 2007

    I have seen first hand how the state invents ways to waste money. There is no accountability. You have a bunch of mediocre to terrible manager types mixed with politician types and this is what you get for management. The bad guys with state government are the ones that dare point out the waste. That is a quick way to never get a paultry raise ever again. Mr Lee is just another example of "The System" and in reality this is just peanuts $$ to what goes on in state government. Keep on passing those bonds and raising those taxes.

  • ANYWHO Nov 27, 2007

    MAYBE MAYORMEEKER OF MEEKERVILLE WILL GIVE HIM THE $42,500.00 ELECTRIC CAR THAT RALEIGH JUST BOUGHT MAYOR MEEKERVILLE WAS TOUTING ON T.V. RECENTLY. THEY ARE BOTH LIBERALS, MAYBE THAY COULD SUGAR ON EACH OTHER AND BE DEM. BUDDIES...

  • jackadoo Nov 27, 2007

    Lee was not a State employee and was therefore prohibited from driving a State car. Someone in authority pointed that out in a much earlier post. I assume that is correct. I agree the type car was a bad choice but he is a very tall man and those earlier suggesting a Neon or Geo are not being very realistic. A smarter choice would have been a mid-sized US made sedan. This man is not a cheat. He was serving in a volunteer capacity at no salary, and he is a man with integrity. I know that personally. He should not thrown in with the same scoundrels we are all too familiar with. Like most taxpayers, I agree we have way too much waste and deception.

  • ranquick Nov 27, 2007

    Just another mis use of OUR TAXES

  • ANYWHO Nov 27, 2007

    CHAPEL HILL?? EXACTLY WHERE IS THIS PLACE???

  • one_nc_citizen Nov 27, 2007

    might as well buy a car.

  • mrduffin Nov 27, 2007

    Check the number of vehicles that are being driven home in the school system. I Durham there are vehicles being driven as far as Greensboro everyday. Plus the bosses that get car allownaces are getting five a six hundred dollars a month. I will never vote for a bond issue because I saw the waste first hand!

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