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Prince George’s School Board Members Continued Using Taxpayer-Funded Credit Cards After Vote to End Them

school-board-pic4Some members of the Prince George’s County School Board continued using taxpayer-funded credit cards for months after voting to eliminate those cards, according to an investigation by the News4 I-Team.

After a 2014 News4 I-Team review found board members used credit cards for thousands of dollars of meal and hotel expenses within close range of their offices, the board voted unanimously to end its credit card program in January. But the I-Team’s review of 2015 board receipts and expenses showed at least two board members continued to make local meal purchases with those credit cards through April.

Several of those purchases were made by Board member Carolyn Boston, who formally introduced the credit card ban at a board meeting in January. Boston is also one of a handful of board members who purchased thousands of dollars in meals in 2014, including room service breakfast and seafood meals at restaurants within minutes of the board’s offices. Her 2015 expenses included more restaurant meals in Prince George’s County in the weeks after the vote. She also swiped her board credit card for a dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steak House during an education conference in Tennessee.

The I-Team also obtained credit card expense receipts from Board member Patricia Eubanks, showing a series of meal expenses in Prince George’s County after the Jan. 22 vote. The meals include a $90 lunch meeting at a Joe’s Crab Shack with two guests.

School Board president Segun Eubanks said, in the days after the vote, the board chose to delay the cancellation of its credit cards until April 1. “We needed to have some leeway to complete the process,” Eubanks said. “It was never our intent to be disingenuous or hide anything from the public.” The April 1 deadline was made part of the public record, school officials said. The deadline was not publicly specified at either the January or February school board meetings in which the credit card policy was official approved.

Under the new expense policy, board members will pay meal and lodging expenses out-of-pocket, then seek reimbursement from the district. Board president Eubanks said the newly crafted policy will limit board members to four taxpayer-funded meals per month.

Eubanks said none of the board member meal purchases made before or after the Jan. 22 vote violated board rules or laws. No credit card purchases have been made since April, he said. “The cards are done,” he said. “No one is using them. They are completely in our past.”

Carolyn Boston and Patricia Eubanks declined requests for interviews. In a statement on their behalf, a school spokeswoman said the meal and room service expenses during out-of-town travel were justified. “Often times the host hotel is in the downtown area within walking distance of a narrow selection of restaurants,” the statement said. “In some cases, board members attend all-day professional development and board members use what is most convenient for them; therefore, dine in their room. It’s important to note that the Board was in compliance with the allowable daily meal expense according to the new reimbursement policy.”

via NBC4


Taking a swipe at the credit card cloud in Prince George’s.

School board decision to nix charge accounts was long overdue


PGCPS Sasscer – System HQ

Elected officials’ use of credit cards has been like bad plumbing: every time Prince Georgians thought the problem was fixed, another leak seemed to pop up.

Many remember the audit of the Prince George’s County school board in 2000, when lax accounting and widespread abuse of expense accounts were revealed. Questions surfaced about some board members charging items that did not appear to be related to their board duties, overspending and using funds for items that could be considered campaign related.

Then, in 2006, The Washington Post identified credit card violations by then-county executive Jack Johnson and a few council members. In some cases, officials were late reimbursing — or failed to reimburse all together — the county for personal expenses they charged.

In 2013, Carletta Fellows resigned from the school board shortly after having her county-issued credit card revoked for reportedly using it on utility bills.

And just a few months ago, in October, the school board came under fire when the Post revealed board members’ use of board-issued cards for meals. Vice Chairwoman Carolyn M. Boston (Dist. 6), for example, charged a total of $190 in one day for a lunch and dinner. While the charges were allowed — credit card use is permitted for expenses related to board duties, to include working meals — the purchases understandably raised questions about spending responsibly. A state legislator has since made a proposal to ban giving credit cards to school board members.

Fortunately, the school board didn’t wait for this issue to drag out on a state stage. The board voted at its Jan. 22 meeting to change an amendment to ban the credit card use and plans to make a final vote on the decision Feb. 12.

“I think that doing this is the absolute right thing to do and I always have, regardless of media coverage. We don’t need [the cards], and the public has high expectations,” board Chairman Segun Eubanks said before the vote.

He’s right. It’s the right thing to do and it should have been done long ago. The County Council eliminated credit cards for elected officials shortly after the embarrassing revelations in 2011. It’s a shame the school board didn’t follow suit at the time, but it’s better late than never.

And it’s commendable that the board went a step further to limit the number of weekly meals for which board members could be reimbursed and placed price caps on the meals.

We applaud the school board for addressing this issue that has lingered for at least 15 years. Hopefully, officials will likewise keep a critical eye on reimbursements and other financial requests by officials to ensure the public’s high standards continue to be met.

>>> Read more 



State delegate proposes bill calling for school board to ban credit cards


Delegate Alonzo Washingon (D-22)

For the second year in a row, a delegate from Prince George’s County will propose a bill to ban the use of taxpayer-funded credit cards by the county’s Board of Education, and the legislation has the support of at least one board member.

“I think there’s some members who used their credit card in an appropriate manner,” said Board of Education member Edward Burroughs, who does not have a board-issued credit card. “I think there’s some members in the past who have not used it in an appropriate manner. Taxpayer dollars are so important it’s best for no one to have a card.”

Delegate Alonzo Washingon (D-22) said he proposed the bill last year for transparency and accountability reasons, and he decided to propose it again this year.

Earlier this year, The Sentinel reported the Board’s vice chair, Carolyn Boston, and school board member Verjeana Jacobs used their credit cards for the most meals of any board members between January 2013 and May 2014. Boston purchased 114 meals totaling more than $5,500 and Jacobs purchased 87 meals totaling more than $6,200, according to credit card statements and expense reports.

Boston declined to comment and Jacobs did not respond to requests for comment.

“Unless there’s a policy change within the school system this year, I plan on going full steam ahead,” Washington said. “A lot of my constituents are alarmed by the reports. They’d like to see a change happen based on reports that came out. They’re absolutely right.”

Board Chairman Segun Eubanks said the school system conduct an internal review of its policy following reports by The Sentinel and other media outlets, but the school board does not have plans to ban credit cards completely. Details of the policy changes will not become public until January, Eubanks said, and the changes will mainly clarify certain things, like maximum daily meal allowances and frequency of meals.

Additionally, Eubanks also said the school board is not considering an external audit of the reimbursement policy because “there is no evidence that board members have misused the reimbursement policy with use of their credit cards.”

Read more >>> Prince George’s County Sentinel.