Councilman Kenneth Kennedy on Monday introduced a proposal that would ban the use of all city purchasing cards or credit cards used by city employees for travel, dining and other expenses.
Kennedy said he made the proposal after reviewing some employees' purchasing card statements over the past year. Some of the charges, including hundreds of dollars spent on dining in upscale Hartford restaurants, concerned him, he said.
A Courant review of purchasing card statements shows that Mayor Pedro Segarra spent $6,200 on dining in restaurants between Jan. 2011 and Dec. 2012.
Segarra's chief of staff, Jared Kupiec, spent more than $4,300 on dining over the course of a year, from Feb. 2012 to Feb. 2013.
The mayor defended the expenses.
"Simply because a line-item purchase is at a restaurant doesn't mean it was 'dining out.' All are working lunches, meetings with real estate developers and investors, cabinet meetings, meetings with staff and it includes the city Christmas party for all 1,500 employees," Maribel La Luz, Segarra's spokeswoman, said Monday. "Ninety-nine percent of food costs are purchased at Hartford restaurants. Every expense — food or otherwise — is documented and reviewed. ...Finance is meticulous about monitoring expenses for auditing purposes, and no unapproved expense would be processed, period."
Kennedy, however, said he would rather like to see employees front the money for expenses and then be reimbursed.
"You can do all of these things through reimbursement," Kennedy said. "When people spend their own money up front and have to wait for reimbursement, they're less likely to spend money. The problem with the [purchasing] cards is you can't control it."
Kennedy noted in his resolution that the practice of using purchasing cards began under former Mayor Eddie A. Perez, and that council members in the past have raised concerns about the spending.
"This is the second administration to do this, and it's just very hard to watch," he said. "You're basically just depending on people's judgment for the cards. It's taxpayers' money — you need some control over it."
City officials have pointed out that money spent on travel, dining, office supplies and other expenses is factored into the city's budget. The city budgeted $240,000 for travel during the 2010-11 fiscal year and $120,000 in 2011-12, David Panagore, the city's former chief operating officer, said in April 2012.
About 185 employees currently have city purchasing cards, according to city officials. That doesn't include some elected officials, for whom information was not immediately available Monday. City Council President Shawn Wooden said he is not aware of any council members or council aides who have purchasing cards.
The council is still awaiting the results of an audit it requested last month on all city purchasing cards, and explanations for why the money was spent.
Kennedy's proposal was referred Monday to the council's operations, management, budget and legislative affairs committee. Wooden said the committee probably won't vote on it until it has a chance to review the results of the audit.
Wooden said he originally requested that the results be submitted to the council by late April, but he recently sent a letter to the internal audit commission asking members to expedite the process.
He said several council members are concerned about the spending.
"I think the real question is whether the actual expenditures are appropriate," he said. "It's not whether or not it's appropriate to use city credit cards for travel expenses. It's whether it's appropriate to charge specific expenses, like meals, to the taxpayers of the city."