Emanuel cutting up hundreds of city credit cards

July 11, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The mayor is cutting up hundreds of cards.

This is mostly a symbolic move by the Emanuel administration inasmuch as it will have virtually no effect on the city's huge budget deficit. But it sends a clear message about city employee use of Chicago taxpayer money, not only through the use of credit cards, but also in the use of so-called "petty cash."

The Fleet Management Department, which maintains most of city government's thousands of trucks and cars, used over $34,000 from a "petty cash" account last year. Department officials told auditors they spent the money to buy gasoline for police cars that are supposed to fill up at city-owned fueling depots.

"We have a city-wide procurement contract for gasoline and fuel. So there's no reason that petty cash should be used to fund the fuel purchases," said Chicago Comptroller Amer Ahmad.

The audit found that petty cash accounts -- reportedly tens of thousands of dollars spread among every city department and agency -- have been used repeatedly for so-called "questionable" expenses."

"Moving forward, we will not have petty cash accounts," Ahmad said. "We will be recovering all of the money that currently exists in those accounts."

The mayor's office also took away nearly 500 city-issued credit cards that auditors said had been used for local meals, entertainment, sporting goods, flowers, red light tickets and car washes.

Only 30 cards remain, none for city department heads and only five apiece for executives at each of the six city agencies, including CTA, CHA, Chicago Public Schools, the park district, City Colleges and Public Buildings Commission.

Mayor Emanuel was out of town Monday and unavailable for comment. His comptroller, who conducted the audit, stopped short of accusing the administration of Mayor Richard M. Daley of mismanagement of city accounts.

"There were some questionable charges in the past, but we're focused on being good stewards of the finances going forward," said Ahmad.

The Emanuel administration promises to post the remaining City of Chicago-issued credit cards' monthly statements online for public view.

The city also announced Monday that city employees who lost their city-issued cards will have to use their own credit when traveling to be reimbursed for approved expenses.

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