County staffers frugal on trips

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The questionable credit card charges and travel expenses that have plagued officials in neighboring Stanislaus County are not a problem in Tuolumne County.

That's the word from Assistant Auditor-Controller Debi Russell, who said a strict reporting system and new reimbursement policy will guard against the kind of high-profile abuse Stanislaus had experienced.

That county's former chief executive officer, Reagan Wilson, charged $230,000 to his county credit card over six years, including a $3,000 stay at a pricey New York City hotel last November. There, Wilson spent $650 a night for a hotel room, $70 on a pedicure and $220 on a massage all charged to his county credit card.

And Stanislaus County Supervisor Pat Paul has also been challenged about a $196 facial and massage she accepted as a gift from a developer who does business in her county.

"They just weren't paying close enough attention," Russell said of Stanislaus County's auditors. "We haven't had a whole lot of abuse, mainly because the limits are so low."

Most Tuolumne County credit cards have a $500 or $1,000 limit, Russell said. Wilson's credit limit in Stanislaus County was $50,000.

Russell said about 200 county credit cards are assigned to county staff members, all of whom have signed a cardholder agreement. The names of the cardholders appear on county credit cards.

Employees are responsible for reviewing each monthly statement and turning them in, with receipts of purchases, to their department managers. Managers then turn paperwork over to Russell's office.

"We've had a few errors, they were very up front about it," Russell said.

Sometimes county employees accidentally pull out the wrong card at the checkstand, Russell said, and rush in to tell their bosses the next day.

"They feel really bad," Russell said of the few instances where something like that has happened. In each case, the employee paid the county back, she added.

The Union Democrat
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