Local Politics

Wake eyes putting expense reports online

A consultant found no fraud in spending by Wake County employees, but recommended tighter policies for travel and purchases.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Wake County officials are looking at putting all county expense reports online, using an army of taxpayer watchdogs to help curb fraud.

The move comes after a county employee was fired for running up questionable expenses on his county-issued credit card. The Board of Commissioners would need to approve such an "accountability portal," however, and it wouldn't be active for months if they did.

"If it is known that the general public can see all of this, then it would cause all of us to be more cautious so these things won't happen again," Commissioner Harold Webb said.

The county fired Craig Wittig from the county's Solid Waste Management Division last June after an internal review raised questions about travel expenses for 46 trips since he was hired as recycling manager in 2006.

Wittig said the trips, which included travels to Disney World and Las Vegas and whale-watching on the coast of Maine, were to research environmental programs in other parts of the country so that Wake County could develop a state-of-the art recycling program.

The Wake County District Attorney's Office found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing, but county officials said about $70,000 of Wittig's spending was questionable, including $11,000 to $15,000 that the county could recover because the expenses were clearly improper.

"There was lax supervision," Commissioner Tony Gurley said. "Some of the purchases were approved by superiors, and yet, I can't imagine someone thinking about the expenditure and approving it."

Commissioners on Monday reviewed the report of a procurement and travel audit performed by an outside consultant. The audit  went into more detail than a county audit last summer, and the consultant provided several suggestions for tightening up policies on county travel and the use of county credit cards.

Although the consultant found no instances of fraud, the report recommended that the county perform more frequent spot checks on employee spending and implement a more stringent approval process for travel.

Because of a budget deficit projected to top $23 million during the 2008-09 fiscal year, the county has frozen all travel except for trips previously approved or those needed to retain professional certification.

Putting expense reports online wasn't part of the consultant's report. Gurley first suggested it last summer and said Monday it would promote transparency in government.

"If we just had our expenditures on the Internet, we would have hundreds of people online making sure we weren't wasting their money," he said.


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