DeKalb commissioner suspends purchasing card usage for self and staff

by: Jodie Fleischer Updated:

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DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A DeKalb County commissioner under fire for using her county-issued purchasing card to pay for personal expenses has suspended all use of the card.
 
In a written statement Elaine Boyer told Channel 2 Action News, "Neither I, nor any of my staff, will use a P-card for any expenses whatsoever until the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has adopted a clear policy for permissible use of the County P-cards."
 
Thursday a DeKalb County resident in conjunction with DeKalb's Unhappy Taxpayer Coalition filed formal ethics complaints against Boyer and her chief of staff, Robert Lundsten.
 
"We found with both Boyer and Lundsten a long and consistent willful and deliberate misuse of the county credit card for personal expenses," said Joe Newton, who helped draft the complaints.
 
Channel 2 Action News investigated Boyer and Lundsten's expenses since January 2012 and found they've billed taxpayers for more than $65,355 worth of expenses.
 
Some of their larger expenses include:

  • Restaurants (Lundsten) : $7,979.46
  • Personal Cellphone (Lundsten): $3,048.99
  • Personal Car Expenses (Lundsten): $745.63
  • Restaurants (Boyer): $4,596.16
  • Personal Cellphone (Boyer): $3,733.03
  • Airfare Expenses (Boyer): $7,324.50

 
Boyer says some of her airfare and other travel expenses were for official county business, others were personal travel for herself and her family, which she later reimbursed. She admits she did a poor job tracking her receipts and making sure those reimbursements were timely. 
 
"When you look at the receipts at the end of the month, they got missed. And so I really don't have an excuse for that and so when it was brought to my attention I paid it back," said Boyer.
 
Newton and his friend Tom Owens, who signed the complaints, see it differently.
 
"Well I think it's theft. It's a deliberate pattern of theft," said Newton.
 
By phone, Lundsten told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer he put more than $500 in gas and a repair bill at Jim Ellis Volkswagen on his county card because he uses his personal vehicle for work. Lundsten says he has now stopped paying car expenses with his card and is instead keeping a log of his mileage.
 
He says he had also been billing the county $100 a month for his personal cellphone, because he uses it for work. Boyer also used her personal cellphone for county business and billed taxpayers.
 
DeKalb County policy allows commissioners to approve their own spending and that of their staff.
 
Receipts show the purchase of $1,269 worth of electronics and accessories at a Best Buy, and the purchase of forty Walmart gift cards valued at $50 each. Boyer and Lundsten say the purchases and cards were given away at an employee picnic to reward county staffers, however there is no documentation of which employees received the gifts. 
 
"They were approving their own expenses, which is just ludicrous. I don't understand this, this is totally out of control," said Newton. "I think the county is completely disorganized, there doesn't seem to be any political will by the county to correct this. It's gone on too long, too many times and the state needs to step in."
 
Newton and Owens would like the DeKalb County Ethics Board to thoroughly investigate the spending, remove Boyer and Lundsten from office, and forward all of the records to the district attorney.
 
Boyer did have a pattern of paying back personal expenses, although she admits she missed a few of them.
 
She has paid back a total of $12,047 in personal expenses; roughly two-thirds of that was prior to anyone questioning her spending.
 
Earlier this week Boyer told Channel 2 Action News she didn't recall signing the county agreement that reads,"I agree to use this card for DeKalb County approved purchases only and agree not to charge personal purchases."
 
"At this point that's all I can do, is say I'm sorry and it won't continue," Boyer said. "There was never any intent in my mind not to pay it back."
 
A 2011 audit reminded Boyer of the county policy to only charge business expenses and suggested she reduce her frequent use of the card at restaurants.
 
Newton says Boyer and Lundsten should have known better.
 
"These are not accidental and coincidental expenses, this is a deliberate pattern of defrauding the county out of a substantial amount of money and it has to stop," said Newton.

In a statement, Boyer told Channel 2 Action News:

"Effective immediately, I am ordering a suspension of all P-card use by my office. Neither I, nor any of my staff, will use a P-card for any expenses whatsoever until the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners has adopted a clear policy for permissible use of the County P-cards

As I have said before, there is no County policy on how commissioners or their office staffers use County P-cards.  Presently, each commissioner is responsible for the use of the P-cards issued to their office, with an allocation to run their respective office for meeting with constituents and responding to their concerns, issues, or complaints. I have used my P-card for these public expenses, and have continued to spend less than the budgeted amount for my office.

In my 20+ years of service to the people of DeKalb County, I have always been frugal, transparent, and accountable. I deeply regret that any of my actions have led to the misperception that I was abusing the trust the voters have placed in me.  My record as a fiscal conservative and as an advocate for smaller and better government has taken decades to earn, and I hope that I will be judged on my entire record of service to the County."