By Steve Plunkett
The City Council quickly disposed of $5,600 in questions the county Office of the Inspector General raised in an audit of city expenses.
Council members voted unanimously that buying food for its three-day goal-setting sessions in May and its budget presentation to the Chamber of Commerce in August serves the public good.
“As you know, the inspector general is going around the county inspecting things, and they have expressed a concern in the city and other cities that food being purchased for different types of events in their opinion does not meet a public purpose,” City Manager Leif Ahnell said as he asked council members to weigh in.
“There’s no question that the food at the goal-setting meetings definitely serves a public purpose, the public purpose being to keep the meetings as short as we can,” council member Michael Mullaugh said.
Mullaugh said someone doing “a little bit of arithmetic” could subtract the $1,300 cost of the food from how much longer the meetings would go if the participants went out for lunch and how much would it cost to have the city’s consultant for the additional time.
“I think you’d actually come up with a public purpose in saving money,” Mullaugh said. “This is a no-brainer. The food at the goal-setting meetings definitely serves a public purpose.”
Council members Anthony Majhess and Constance Scott and Deputy Mayor Susan Haynie agreed.
“It becomes a working lunch,” Majhess said. “It allows us to deliberate more effectively with the information that comes out of some one-on-one discussions [with staff] during the lunch period.”
The $4,300 Chamber of Commerce breakfast got a separate discussion.
“I think it makes a statement to our business community and to the members of the Chamber of Commerce that we want them to be aware of what we do, how we operate. And that meeting reviews our budget, and it explains how we’re spending our money and how the residents’ taxes are being allocated,” Scott said.
“So do I think it’s a public purpose? They attend that meeting, they eat and they hear from usually the city manager and/or the mayor and so I do believe it’s a public purpose.”
Again her colleagues unanimously agreed.
“That is our kickoff for our budget presentation to the general public. And a lot of people look forward to that. I think it’s a very valuable public purpose,” Haynie said.
In its audit the inspector general’s office said Boca Raton is the top city in Palm Beach County for dollar amount paid with “purchasing cards” instead of checks. “Over 15,000 transactions were made totaling $4.7 million” in fiscal 2011, it said.
The food purchases “are generally not allowable expenditures for state agencies,” the auditors wrote. “Although municipalities have more latitude in the expenditure of public funds, we believe that state guidelines are a sound point of reference.”
Assistant City Manager Mike Woika said the questioned expenses amounted to less than 1/20th of 1 percent of Boca Raton’s total purchase orders.
"This is not to suggest that the city should not review its food purchases by the use of procurement cards, just an observation of the magnitude and materiality of the findings,” he wrote in a response to the audit.
Woika also said the city received $55,000 in a year-end bank rebate from using the cards.
The audit is online at www.pbcgov.com/oig.
By Steve Plunkett