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Treasurer’s credit card expenses highest among elected Sedgwick County officials

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Sep. 29, 2012, at 11:04 p.m.
  • Updated Sunday, Sep. 30, 2012, at 11:08 a.m.

Elected officials’ expenses

The Eagle recently filed a Kansas Open Records Act request for information about purchases that elected Sedgwick County officials made on their county credit cards.

Treasurer Linda Kizzire had the most expenses at $13,351.

Here are the amounts other officials put on their credit cards:

Commissioner Tim Norton: $5,584

Commissioner Dave Unruh: $5,464

Commissioner Jim Skelton: $5,359

Commissioner Richard Ranzau: $2,110

Commissioner Karl Peterjohn: $437

District Attorney Nola Foulston: $9,438

Sheriff Robert Hinshaw: $3,537

County Clerk Kelly Arnold: $1,255

Register of Deeds Bill Meek: He did not make any purchases on a county credit card.

Source: Sedgwick County

Treasurer Linda Kizzire used her work credit card more than any other elected Sedgwick County official during the past two years, violated a policy about meals twice and wrote nine memos explaining receipts that she lost or that did not match her credit card statements, records show.

Kizzire charged $13,351 to her county credit card from Jan. 13, 2011, through Sept. 11, 2012. The county also reimbursed her $2,666 for mileage and other travel expenses during that time, records show.

By comparison, former treasurer Ron Estes put $3,282 on his credit card in 2008 and $4,478 in 2009.

Kizzire traveled to conferences across the country, ate at steakhouses such as Ruth’s Chris and McCormick & Schmick’s, took employees to lunch, sent 25 staff members to a motivational seminar and treated staff to chocolates and nuts.

After a reporter asked her if she knew she had violated a policy that states that “meals or snacks purchased by county staff for county staff while in Sedgwick County are generally not allowed,” Kizzire last week wrote a check for $90.97 to reimburse the county.

“If there was an issue, they should have said something then,” Kizzire said, referring to the finance department. “I did not know that was not acceptable.”

Records show Kizzire signed a “credit card purchase certification” document at least 18 times that stated she had read and understood the county’s purchasing and credit card policies.

A few minutes after repaying the county, she called The Eagle to report that another county department head, not an elected official, had taken her to lunch once and paid with a county credit card.

She asked during another phone call if The Eagle was looking at expenses incurred by city officials. There is no elected treasurer at City Hall. The only elected officials for the city of Wichita are members of the City Council.

County financial policies

Kizzire and two other elected officials — County Clerk Kelly Arnold and Register of Deeds Bill Meek — recently raised concerns that they were not consulted about proposed changes to the county’s financial policies, including those that govern the use of credit cards.

At the Sept. 11 meeting, Kizzire specifically questioned an addition to the policy that outlines the consequences of misuse of a county credit card.

“Who’s going to write us up?” she asked.

The Eagle filed a request under the Kansas Open Records Act for expenses that elected officials had put on their credit cards in 2011 and so far in 2012.

Travel expenses

Among commissioners, Chairman Tim Norton used his card to pay for $5,584 of purchases.

Dave Unruh charged $5,464. Jim Skelton charged $5,359. Richard Ranzau charged $2,110. Karl Peterjohn spent the least — charging $437.

Like for Kizzire, commissioners’ credit card purchases mostly involved travel expenses including conference registration fees, airfare and meals.

Peterjohn didn’t leave the state. All the other commissioners had travel expenses for conferences in Washington, D.C.

Norton also went to a conference in Atlanta, and Unruh went to conferences in New Orleans and Atlanta and to a Visioneering Wichita trip to Pittsburgh, Pa. Ranzau went to a conference in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Robert Hinshaw, the outgoing sheriff, charged $3,537. He attended conferences in New Orleans; Missouri; Arlington, Va.; and Atlanta.

District Attorney Nola Foulston, who did not run for re-election this year, put $9,438 on her credit card.

She charged travel expenses for trips to Chicago; Los Angeles; Nashville; Salt Lake City; Sun Valley, Idaho; and Marco Island, Fla., records show. Like Kizzire, she put some travel expenses for staff members on her credit card.

Arnold, the clerk, put $1,255 on his card. He did not travel outside the state.

Meek, the register of deeds, did not use his credit card in 2011 or so far this year.

Treasurer’s travels

Not all of Kizzire’s expenses were paid out of the county’s general fund. Her calculations show $1,266 in reimbursements from the general fund and $7,554 in purchases using the general fund, deputy chief financial officer Troy Bruun said in an e-mail. The balance of her spending came from the tag fund, which is collected from tag fees.

Kizzire made trips to Washington, D.C.; Portland, Ore.; Coronado, Calif.; and Pittsburgh, Pa. She put $3,224 in other employees’ travel-related expenses on her credit card, records show.

That included a total tab of $18 for dinner at the Prairie Band Casino and Resort that Kizzire and an employee ate on April 13, 2011. Kizzire said she and the employee had attended meetings in Topeka that day.

“We just went up there for fun,” Kizzire said of visiting the casino. “We wanted a break from a computer.”

Local expenses

Although elected officials approve their own expenses — with the exception of commissioners — they are subject to the county’s policies.

Bruun said there is no plan to have someone else approve elected officials’ expenses.

“As long as they are elected, they are in charge of their offices,” Bruun said in an e-mail.

Kizzire paid for employees’ meals at the Cinnabar Cafe at the Wichita Marriott and at DeFazio’s, an Italian restaurant. Those are the meals she repaid after The Eagle asked her about them.

“It appears to me that she did violate the policy a couple of times,” Bruun said.

“The travel policy … allows elected officials to approve meals in Sedgwick County for county employees,” Bruun said. “However, the only acceptable meal purchase would be a meal onsite in order to keep the people attending the meeting in the same location and not break for lunch.”

The IRS considers that “for the convenience of the employer,” Bruun explained.

“If you leave and go to a restaurant, the convenience of the employer no longer applies,” Bruun said.

Under the proposed changes to county policy, the consequence for misusing a credit card one time would be a verbal warning to the cardholder and his or her supervisor. A written warning would be issued to the cardholder and the supervisor and division director after a second offense. A third offense would result in cancellation of the card.

Kizzire also spent $29.08 on treats she purchased from the Nifty Nut House to thank employees from the division of information and operations for their work. She said she also spent $25 of her own money on snacks for them.

She turned in a receipt for $409 on Nov. 10, 2011, marked in a report as “Food for Columbus Day 2011.” County employees had that day off, but she said the treasurer’s office uses the holiday as an in-service training day. She said she provided lunch for her staff because they didn’t leave the office that day.

She purchased 25 tickets for employees to go to last year’s Get Motivated seminar at Intrust Bank Arena, which featured speakers such as Bill Cosby and Colin Powell. The county also paid $120 for notebooks her staff got at the seminar.

A review of Kizzire’s expense reports shows she lost or couldn’t provide receipts for eight purchases. Those included meals, checked baggage fees, a subscription to a Derby newspaper and an airport shuttle. She also wrote memos about receipts that didn’t match her credit card statements and about receipts that weren’t itemized.

In a July 19, 2011, memo in which she reconciled a Get Motivated receipt against what appeared on her credit card bill, she wrote that she could not reach Visa, the issuer of her card.

“I have tried and tried to reach the number on the Visa statement and can’t get anyone to answer,” she wrote. “The printout I had is a different amount than the amount charged to Visa. Please accept the lesser amount that is on the Visa statement.”

On March 13, 2012, Kizzire signed a note saying she had misplaced receipts for a breakfast buffet in Topeka, a checked baggage fee for a flight from Washington, D.C., to Wichita and what the note said was a room service charge at the Courtyard by Marriott at the nation’s capital.

However, she told The Eagle that she has never ordered room service on the county’s dime.

One of her employees, Jean Quinn, called The Eagle and said that she wrote the note and Kizzire “signed it, but she must not have read it thoroughly because I was evidently wrong because it was charged to the restaurant in that hotel.”

The hotel does not offer room service, The Eagle confirmed.

Kizzire also asked a treasurer from another Kansas county who attended the same conference to call The Eagle to say she remembered eating breakfast with Kizzire in the hotel’s restaurant.

Organization meetings

Kizzire serves on committees for some of the organizations she belongs to and whose conferences she attended. She attended conferences put on by the National Association of County Collectors, Treasurers and Finance Officers. It meets twice a year. Its annual legislative conference is in Washington, D.C., and it meets a second time each year at a location that rotates. Kizzire also belongs to the Kansas County Treasurers Association and goes to its meetings.

Estes, who was Sedgwick County treasurer from 2005 to 2011, said he went to some of the national organization’s meetings but didn’t go to its legislative conference in Washington, D.C., the last few years of his term. He said it was beneficial to go to some of the conferences but said he skipped one year because the agenda didn’t seem interesting.

He noted that one of the group’s conferences was in Kansas City one year, and “that made my expenses a little bit cheaper because I could drive to Kansas City instead of flying.”

Kizzire also traveled a lot to Topeka this year because of a modernization project in the tag office. Kizzire runs the county’s tag offices for the state. She receives a management bonus of $14,712 for doing so in addition to her treasurer salary of $76,299. Kizzire also receives a cellphone allowance from the county. An earlier Eagle story showed that she had the highest cellphone allowance among all county employees and elected officials.

County Manager William Buchanan declined to comment in detail about the expense findings.

“It’s really not for me to say,” Buchanan said. “The elected officials need to justify their spending to the constituents.”

A Republican, Kizzire is up for election next month.

She does not face a challenger.

Reach Deb Gruver at 316-268-6400 or dgruver@wichitaeagle.com.

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