Local News

Questionable travel prompts call for online expense reports

Posted July 1, 2008 5:46 p.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2008 9:14 p.m. EDT

— Expense reports filed by Wake County employees should be available for inspection on the Internet, Commissioner Tony Gurley said Tuesday.

The proposal came in the wake of a scandal over questionable trips taken by members of the county's Solid Waste Management Division.

Craig P. Wittig was fired June 3 as the division's recycling program manager after county officials found out he had taken at least 46 trips since he was hired in February 2006. The trips included whale-watching off the coast of Maine, four ventures to Disney World and a trip to a Las Vegas hotel.

Wittig said the trips were efforts to research environmental programs in other parts of the country so that Wake County could develop a state-of-the-art recycling program.

Gurley said the prospect of anyone looking over an expense report online should keep other county employees and prevent other questionable travel and purchases.

"Transparency is what the public wants to have, and I think if that could be arranged, we'd cut out a lot of the stuff we're seeing that should not have been done," said Russell Capps, president of the Wake County Taxpayers Association.

Commissioner Betty Lou Ward said she supports putting the public records online, but she also wants better training for employees on spending.

"You're held up to a lot more scrutiny when you use public money than if you're in a private-sector job," Ward said.

Wittig's travels were approved by his former boss, Solid Waste Management Director James S. Reynolds. He was demoted last month to the position of solid waste facilities manager and took a $10,000 cut in his annual salary.

County Manager David Cooke said supervisors typically review employees' expenses before approving them. The county's finance department then looks for the proper signatures on expense reports before paying bills.

Ward said more oversight might be needed to ensure county money isn't wasted.

"I think there will definitely be changes. In the 20 years that I've been a commissioner, nothing like this has ever happened," she said.

Cooke said he would recommend an independent audit of all charges on county credit cards, and he asked all department heads to review their travel spending. He also is looking at possible changes to policies in providing employees with county credit cards.

Some commissioners have called for other employees who traveled with Wittig to be fired. Cooke has said he is reviewing possible disciplinary actions, and he has met with prosecutors to determine whether any criminal charges are warranted.