How Richland County Council members spend discretionary money
Richland County Council members Gwen Kennedy and Norman Jackson double-charged the county for meals and travel expenses on multiple occasions in the past year.
The State newspaper reviewed County Council credit card statements, reimbursement forms and receipts from June 2017 to July 2018, revealing 10 of the county’s 11 council members collectively spent more than $64,000 in taxpayer money at their personal discretion in about 13 months.
Kennedy’s and Jackson’s double-dipping adds up to a few hundred dollars over the course of the year, which is a small amount in comparison to the county’s $168 million general fund budget.
But the double charges could raise an issue of trust, said Rusty DePass a Richland County citizen activist and frequent council critic.
“If somebody doesn’t have any respect for small amounts of money, they’re not going to have any respect for large amounts of money eventually,” Depass said.
The bulk of Jackson’s discretionary spending is on meals, ranging from an $11 outing at Lizard’s Thicket to a $257 meal at Bonefish Grill.
Jackson documented nearly all his meal expenses with copies of receipts, on which he indicated the purpose of most meals was meeting with constituents or contractors.
But on at least five occasions, Jackson submitted duplicate receipts for meals, indicating a slightly different meeting purpose on each receipt.
On May 8, 2018, for instance, Jackson dined at Bonefish Grill on Forest Drive in Columbia. On May 15, he submitted a $257.46 receipt for reimbursement, with the caption, “Renaissance discussion minority contractors.”
A month later, on June 27, Jackson submitted another receipt from the same May 8 meal at Bonefish Grill, this one for $227.26. Unlike the first receipt, this meal was priced before the tip was added. On this receipt, Jackson wrote, “Meet with minority business owners.”
Both receipts bear his signature. Jackson was reimbursed for both receipts, meaning he was paid $484.72 for a meal that had actually cost $257.46, including tip.
Jackson received duplicate payments for at least four other meals between September 2017 and May 2018: at D’s Wings in Cayce ($20.19 and $23.19), Cheesecake Factory in Charlotte ($83.68 and $98.98), Mobay 2 Bar and Grill in Columbia ($13 and $18) and Wild Wing Cafe at the Village at Sandhill ($30.10 and $39.35).
For each meal, the duplicate receipts were submitted in different months.
Jackson told The State he was unaware he had been reimbursed twice for some meals.
He turns in his receipts from his wallet to the county each month or so, writes on them the purpose of the meals, and expects county staff to review them and reimburse him, he said.
“If I’ve been reimbursed more than once for a meal, they should have caught that, because they process it. I don’t,” Jackson said.
Clerk of Council Kimberly Roberts told The State she was unaware that those receipts had been reimbursed twice.
Jackson also received overlapping reimbursements for meals during a July 2018 Dale Carnegie Conference on professional development in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
For that trip, Jackson received a $115 allowance, paid in advance, to cover meals during the two-day conference.
Jackson also submitted a three-night hotel bill for the same conference, which included $128.16 in meal charges at the Pelican Grand Beach Resort.
The hotel bill was reimbursed in full, meaning Jackson was paid a total of $243.16 for meals for his two-day conference.
Kennedy, whose most frequent credit card charges were at gas stations, appears to have received double reimbursement for meals and car travel on at least two occasions.
Before the 2017 meeting of the S.C. Association of Counties in Hilton Head, Kennedy received $356 to cover her mileage and meals for the trip. The conference was held July 29-Aug. 2.
On July 28, the day before the conference began, Kennedy used her county credit card to spend $129.90 at an Outback Steakhouse in Bluffton, just outside of Hilton Head.
In addition to the prepaid expense check she already received, Kennedy on July 31 swiped her card for $27.99 at a gas station in Bluffton. And on Aug. 2, she put $74.56 on her credit card at a Fat Jacks restaurant in Walterboro, about 60 miles from Hilton Head.
While in Myrtle Beach for County Council’s annual retreat Jan. 25-26 this year, Kennedy charged a $154.49 meal at Red Lobster. However, she had already received $30 from the county to cover meals that were not being provided at the retreat.
A month later, Kennedy made a $957.15 reimbursement to the county for personal charges on her credit card — including shopping at Calvin Klein in Myrtle Beach during the retreat trip — but it’s not clear if that reimbursement covered the Red Lobster meal.
Kennedy did not return multiple messages left by The State newspaper this week.
But Kennedy told the Free Times newspaper that she had occasionally used her county credit card for personal expenses by mistake and that she “paid it back every time I pull that thing out by mistake.”
Kennedy also told the Free Times that she “never bothered to” submit receipts to the county to back up her expenses. “But I don’t mind turning them in,” she told the weekly newspaper.