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Howard's expenses disclosed

September 20, 2002|by TARA REILLY

tarar@herald-mail.com

Former Economic Development Commission Director John Howard spent nearly $17,000 in county funds on business trips, lunches and other functions during his last 15 months in the position, according to Howard's expense reports and county credit card statements.

The Washington County Commissioners and the chairman of the EDC board said this week and last week that Howard's trips were necessary to attract businesses to the county, but they could not name any that had come as a result of the trips in the past 15 months.

Howard declined to comment.

The expense statements, which cover the year 2001 and January, February and March of 2002, show Howard spent $16,934 during that period.

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The EDC's fiscal year 2001 budget was $430,014, according to the county's operating budget. Of that amount, about $310,000 went toward the salaries and benefits of five EDC employees, leaving about $119,000 in the budget for other costs.

County Administrator Rodney Shoop has said that Howard's expenses came out of the EDC budget.

Howard went on paid administrative leave in late March 2002 and retired on May 8. His salary at the time was $82,067.

One credit card statement covering transactions from April 28, 2001 to May 22, 2001 shows Howard traveled to Chicago, New York City and Rehoboth Beach, Del, racking up hotel expenses of $2,426.

Commissioners Vice President Paul L. Swartz and the other County Commissioners said they could not comment on Howard's expenses because they hadn't seen the reports. They said the county's budget department usually handles the expenses.

Swartz said that in general, county employees should be cautious of what they spend on the job.

"You have to be conscience of who you're working for, and you can't go first class," Swartz said.

During the New York trip, Howard stayed four nights at the New York Marriott Marquis, costing the county $1,634. Those charges include $210 for room service, according to Howard's hotel bill.

Howard had been in New York from May 4-9 of 2001 to accept two awards for the county at the American Economic Development Council's Annual Conference.

In addition to the hotel bill, the conference's registration fee was $690, putting the trip's total cost at $2,324.

He attended the Association of University Related Research Parks annual conference in Chicago in April 2001, staying three nights at the Millennium Knickerbocker Hotel for $706. Those charges include $168 for room service and $38 for having his laundry done at the hotel, according to the statements.

Other statements and expense reports show Howard went on nine out-of-state business trips during those 15 months.

He also charged the county for 43 business meals, including refreshments he bought while enroute to and from business outings, according to the reports.

One receipt shows Howard billed the county for a cup of coffee that cost $1.60. The same day he billed two cheeseburgers and an order of fries totaling $3.05 to the county. Another time he charged the county for a 50 cent toll fee.

"That is interesting data," Commissioner John Schnebly said. "Do I think we should be charging every pretzel, every donut, every cup of coffee to the county? No. Who could be for that?"

On two occasions, Howard charged the county more than $100 for dinners for three people. The expense report shows that on July 25, 2001, Howard bought dinner for himself and two others at Chic's Seafood and paid the $103.20 bill with a county credit card.

He wrote on the report that he discussed a feasibility study with two officials from National Community Development Services Inc. during dinner.

A few weeks later, on Aug. 9, 2001, Howard charged the county $130.56 for dinner at Chic's Seafood for himself and two others to discuss the same feasibility study, according to the report.

In August 2001, Howard purchased an expandable leather briefcase on a county-issued credit card for $104.99, according to one statement. Howard wrote on the statement that the briefcase was for office use.

When The Herald-Mail asked to see the briefcase, county officials said they didn't have it.

Tim Troxell, acting director of the Economic Development Commission, and Human Resources Director Alan Davis said they didn't know anything about the briefcase.

"Can't help you. Don't have that," Davis said.

Davis said the briefcase might be in the county attorney's office.

County Attorney Richard Douglas stated in an e-mail Thursday that he looked for the briefcase but the county doesn't have it. He said Howard may have purchased the briefcase to replace a personal briefcase that broke while conducting county business.

Documentation showed that Shoop and Director of Budget and Finance Debra Bastian questioned Howard's credit card charges at least once during the 15 months, after a Mystic, Conn., hotel bill totaling $856.33 showed Howard had again ordered room service and had his laundry done at the hotel.

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