03/30/04 — Clean house: Loose policies at ports authority

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Clean house: Loose policies at ports authority

A report from the state auditor’s office indicates not only that there were some loose financial rules in the State Ports Authority, but also that there was loose oversight by the citizen board that governs the authority.

The report released by State Auditor Ralph Campbell included information that the chief executive officer of the ports authority, Erik Stromberg, got a $500 monthly allowance for using his personal car even though the state provided him with a car.

The authority’s board of directors chairman, J. Richard Futrell, said changes were put in place after the audit. Some of those changes, however, might not set well with the taxpayers.

For example, Stromberg no longer gets the $500 monthly car allowance. That was one change. But $6,000 a year was added to his pay to make up for it, giving him a total annual salary of $163,000.

Futrell said the board felt that the car allowance was appropriate because Stromberg’s state car stayed in the authority’s parking lot unless it was being used for business.

That is not a satisfactory explanation. The state car was available for Stromberg to use on business, which presumably he did, so he should not have received an allowance for using his private car.

The audit raised other questions. Auditors found that Stromberg took his family to the Gator Bowl football game in Jacksonville, Fla., last year at state expense. Futrell said he approved that because Stromberg planned to discuss business at the game with a railroad company official. The railroad man gave Stromberg tickets to the game.

Futrell said in a letter to the auditors that Stromberg made a partial reimbursement to the state because it turned out that no business was discussed. After the audit, he repaid the remainder of the cost to the state.

The auditors also found that other Ports Authority employees charged personal purchases on their state credit cards. Some of that money was repaid before the audit, some after.

It should be obvious to anyone that if you work for the state and the state gives you a credit card to use for state purchases, you do not, under any circumstances, make personal charges on it. These employees apparently were adopting the attitude of their boss.

It would seem that the authority’s board should consider a housecleaning among its staff. With the chairman so defensive of the suspicious practices, that seems unlikely. Maybe we need to do some housecleaning on the board.

Published in Editorials on March 30, 2004 11:23 AM