Savannah City Manager in hot water for sloppy (or worse) expense reporting

As much as some would like to think that bloggers and citizen journalists will fill the information void created by staff cuts to legacy media companies, it’s clear that we still need reporters with the knowledge, the time, and the objectivity to dig deep into facts — often tedious and boring ones.

Exhibit A: Savannah City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney’s travel reports violate city policy by Lesley Conn in this past Sunday’s Savannah Morning News.

From the article:

A review of City Manager Rochelle Small-Toney’s travel expenses for the last 18 months shows she was reimbursed for expenses supposed to be covered by per diems, has been reimbursed without providing final receipts and, in one case, submitted a handwritten note for a $150 reimbursement four months after a trip.

Those practices and others violate several rules within the city of Savannah’s travel policy, including requirements that receipts be submitted for reimbursement and that travel reports be submitted five days after a trip.

It’s a long and detailed piece, so I won’t try to summarize it all. The oddest single item — and the one that I find most infuriating — is that late $150 submission. Even if the expense had been filed in a correct and timely fashion, consider this: “It was for the cost of a shuttle van to take 15 people, including city council members, to dinner during the Mayor’s Day Conference in Atlanta.”

The distance from the hotel to the restaurant? 351 feet.

Did Small-Toney decide to hire that shuttle for such a short trip? Did one of the members of council?

Adding to the problems that Small-Toney has created for herself is the fact that she has been a stickler for correct accounting procedures in various city departments. Many of us have respected and applauded that managerial trait. A true penny-pincher could go a long way to justifying a salary of almost $200,000.

Of course, we’re used to double standards in workplaces generally and in government offices specifically. Dubious travel expenses are hardly limited to the public sector.

But there are some real questions here about accountability since the auditing department reports directly to the city manager.

And this spawns some fresh questions about whether Small-Toney is the right person for the job. The process by which she was hired became contentious, divisive, and to a significant degree racially polarizing, but many of us were willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Today’s Savannah Morning News editorial is a harsh one but does not call for any specific action against her (surely “to the woodshed” in the headline is meant metaphorically).

Mayor Edna Jackson has been accumulating quite a bit of good will since winning a contentious election last November to replace outgoing two-term mayor Otis Johnson. She now faces a pretty big test.

12 comments

  1. polpol says:

    What is even more absurd about the $150 for a van to go less than a block to Ray’s from the Hyatt is that you can walk through the interconnecting “tubes” and emerge directly across the street without getting wet or walking up a “steep hill” as claimed in the SMN article. Overall this smacks of a simple lack of judgement on behalf of all parties involved – the CM and those of the Council who attended the dinner.

  2. saltycracker says:

    So where are the checks and balances with expenditures?
    We ran expense reports through an accounting clerk familiar with policy before management approval. Reduces managerial nitpicking and boundary testing.

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