City Comptroller: I Said No to Filner Credit Card Expenses

City Comptroller: I Said No to Filner Credit Card Expenses

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San Diego City Comptroller Ken Whitfield said he tried to hold down costs when it came to Mayor Bob Filner’s controversial spending on his trip to Paris and use of city credit cards, but Filner deputies pushed back or overrode his decisions.

Whitfield said Friday Filner violated city rules by charging personal items on his taxpayer-funded credit card and that Filner Chief of Staff Lee Burdick argued a $128.94 NutriBullet blender was a business expense before relenting and paying for it with a personal check.

Whitfield also said he denied a request to increase the city credit card limit to pay for non-coach class airfare for the mayor’s security detail to Paris because city policies require employees to fly coach. Chief Financial Officer Greg Bych later agreed to raise the limit. Filner went to Paris to speak in support of an Iranian dissident group.

It’s rare for someone as high-level as the mayor not to follow city rules, said Whitfield, who as comptroller oversees city finances. He said he was unaware of any other situation where a city credit card was canceled, as the mayor’s later was, or of anyone else who hadn’t paid his or her bill.

“In a 10,000-person organization people do things all the time where you scratch your head and say, ‘You should know better,’” Whitfield said. “Usually, it doesn’t happen with senior executives. Certainly they should know better.”

The Credit Card

Filner and others in his office charged more than $11,000 for various expenses, including a trip to Mexico and charges at the Westgate hotel across the street from City Hall. Filner’s office failed to pay the bill, which was four months overdue. With increasing alarm, Whitfield, in emails obtained by U-T San Diego, told the mayor’s office to pay the bill. Eventually, it did, but the mayor admitted that $975.08 were personal expenses. That violates the city’s credit card policy.

Whitfield said the city’s oversight process for its credit card policies ultimately worked.

“The mayor, he didn’t turn in receipts,” he said. “Guess what? His bill never got paid and for good reason.”

Originally, a NutriBullet blender wasn’t on the list of the mayor’s personal expenses when the bill was divided up. Whitfield said city departments don’t get to expense things like microwaves, small refrigerators or even bottled water, so he balked at the blender.

“I don’t want this story turning into NutriBullet-gate,” he said.

Whitfield said Burdick tried to argue the city should pay for the blender, but relented and cut a personal check to pay for it.

Burdick said neither she nor Filner had ever approved the blender purchase, and that it was OK’d by Former Filner chief of staff Vince Hall. (In a text message, Hall confirmed he approved the blender after staff requested it.)

Burdick said she believed Hall considered the blender a healthier alternative to the coffee and Coke machines in almost every department. The comptroller’s office, Burdick said, agreed to consider whether the city could pay for it because Hall had signed off on it.

“Quite simply, it was never one of the mayor’s expenses,” Burdick said.

She said once she was informed of Whitfield’s decision, she paid for it immediately.

The Paris Trip

In the week before the mayor’s late June trip to Paris, the San Diego Police Department requested its credit card limit be increased to pay for the mayor’s security detail to accompany him.

When the request came in, Whitfield said he checked Travelocity for the time of the trip and saw there were plenty of coach seats available. City rules require employees to fly coach.

“I denied the request,” Whitfield said.

Soon after, Bych reversed Whitfield and increased the credit card limit. Airfare for the mayor’s two-person security detail cost $16,462. Ultimately, the security detail wound up missing its flight and the officers were re-booked – in coach, ironically. Whitfield said the airline was reimbursing the city for the cost difference.

Bych told VOSD he approved the higher credit card limit because the trip had been ordered by the mayor’s office through the Human Resources Department, and the Police Department had certain requirements for its security detail to travel.

“I believe that the HR staff got the best available seats at the lowest cost that met the security detail’s requirements,” Bych said.

Bych contended in a memo to Audit Committee Chairman Kevin Faulconer, who is investigating the trip, that all city procedures were followed.

Whitfield Had No Problem Saying No

Whitfield said he did not have any problem denying the mayor’s office’s requests. He said the best advice he’s received came from his boss from his first job: Always put some money away so that you have the independence to say no, even to people above you.

“I’ve got a lot of fucking money in the bank,” Whitfield said. “It allows me to sleep at night. It allows me to do my job with a whole lot integrity and not worry about losing it.”

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Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon

Liam Dillon is senior reporter and assistant editor for Voice of San Diego. He leads VOSD’s investigations and writes about how regular people interact with local government. What should he write about next? Please contact him directly at liam.dillon@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5663.

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36 comments
Jim Beam
Jim Beam

Don't take this as a defense of the Mayor, but just a couple of important observations for the VOSD to research. Did anyone catch that the City has a 49 Page document regarding the use of P-Cards, taxpayers wonder how come there is so much overhead with running a City Department. Who had the oversight but dropped the ball 5 months ago when the first violation was apparently noticed, who failed to inform the Mayoral staff of the required training, will the Mayor use this as a defense? Violators: • First occurrence - card suspended for 30-days and Cardholder & Approver must retake P-Card training. • Second occurrence - card suspended for entire department/division for 30-days. Conditional reinstatement will be considered upon receipt of written request from Department Director. • Third occurrence – permanent revocation of the P-Card. A description of violations and appropriate corrective measures is listed in the Appendix (Procurement Card Program Corrective Actions for Violations).

David Hall
David Hall subscriber

Wanna bet Ken Whitfield would have kept his profane mouth shut and not given that interview while Sanders was mayor, regardless of how much f'n money Whitfield has in the bank? He had to know his words were going on the record. Is that really the kind of measured response we want in a Comptroller?

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

Had not even noticed that quote until just now. Wow.

realitychick
realitychick

Mr. Whitfield shows that those who have integrity and say "No" don't make it to the top, he was overridden by bosses. Thanks for saying this happens at the City, because I also say it does. I'm sure you all have worked in places where "No" is not appreciated. We just don't want to have it happen in Government. Glad someone could speak up with a name and a bank account behind him, that was the idea behind paying government employees well enough so they couldn't be bought! Most of them don't have that freedom anymore, due to the attacks on employee pay and pensions. Which brings me to the City Attorney's office and how badly I'm hearing the people who don't make the bucks (and actually some who did-now gone) are being treated, and they can't speak up, there IS reprisal. They thought Aguirre was bad, but this City Attorney is a worse tyrant. Giving the Mayor bad advise and then trying to trash him for it, makes me not trust his intentions RE: the Filner scandal. While I am for due process & I don't defend any of the actions I've heard of, I ALSO do know what low behavior the 'conservative bully force' in this city will stoop to to vilify their opponents and victims. VOSD, investigate the City Attorney's office- if you can get anyone to talk. We need true whistleblower protection here to clean up City Hall.

La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage

WHAT: PRESS CONFERENCE “STANDING W/ MAYOR FILNER AND DUE PROCESS” WHEN: MONDAY ~ AUGUST 19 @ 1200 NOON WHERE: CIVIC CENTER PLAZA Info: Enrique Morones @ 619 977-9467 WE WILL NOT BE SILENT “We are defending the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Due Process and innocent until found guilty BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.” Ken S Msemaji DOMESTIC WORKERS “Those of us South of INTERSATE 8 voted for Mayor Filner and those North of INTERSTATE 8 want him out” Kathleen Harmon FORMER FILNER VOLUNTEER “Mayor Bob Filner like any other person deserves due process and the overwhelming demand for his resignation appears to have been initially motivated and orchestrated by the conservative elements in San Diego that fear the Mayor’s progressive agenda of including all people in the future direction of the city” David Valladolid COMMUNITY ORGANIZER “Bob has stood side by side with many of our displaced communities for decades, now we stand with him. Bob, like the alleged victims deserve due process and not a public execution and circus, We will not be silent”. Enrique Morones , Native San Diegan & HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST

La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage subscribermember

WHAT: PRESS CONFERENCE “STANDING W/ MAYOR FILNER AND DUE PROCESS” WHEN: MONDAY ~ AUGUST 19 @ 1200 NOON WHERE: CIVIC CENTER PLAZA Info: Enrique Morones @ 619 977-9467 WE WILL NOT BE SILENT “We are defending the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, Due Process and innocent until found guilty BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT.” Ken S Msemaji DOMESTIC WORKERS “Those of us South of INTERSATE 8 voted for Mayor Filner and those North of INTERSTATE 8 want him out” Kathleen Harmon FORMER FILNER VOLUNTEER “Mayor Bob Filner like any other person deserves due process and the overwhelming demand for his resignation appears to have been initially motivated and orchestrated by the conservative elements in San Diego that fear the Mayor’s progressive agenda of including all people in the future direction of the city” David Valladolid COMMUNITY ORGANIZER “Bob has stood side by side with many of our displaced communities for decades, now we stand with him. Bob, like the alleged victims deserve due process and not a public execution and circus, We will not be silent”. Enrique Morones , Native San Diegan & HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST

Linda Tegarden
Linda Tegarden

Mr. Whitfield, applause, applause, applause. And Thank You.

Linda Tegarden
Linda Tegarden subscriber

Mr. Whitfield, applause, applause, applause. And Thank You.

TomO
TomO

It's sad that Comptroller Whitfield implies only city officials and employees with "a lot of fucking money in the bank" can do their jobs decently and effectively. Does that mean only the rich can stand up to power and do what's right? Maybe that's what's wrong with government, and the cause of this entire Filner affair.

Steve Yuhas
Steve Yuhas

Nothing surprises me with Filner's hubris. The infuriating thing is the fact that Mayor Filner not following rules about the use of his government issued credit card is probably something that preceded his time in the mayor's office. Moreover, when Filner was in Congress he grilled military service chiefs about credit card use and insisted that penalties for fraudulent and improper use of federal credit cards be increased - they were. Somehow, though, I bet a look at Filner's federal credit card would reveal things far worse than a blender.

Steve Yuhas
Steve Yuhas subscriber

Nothing surprises me with Filner's hubris. The infuriating thing is the fact that Mayor Filner not following rules about the use of his government issued credit card is probably something that preceded his time in the mayor's office. Moreover, when Filner was in Congress he grilled military service chiefs about credit card use and insisted that penalties for fraudulent and improper use of federal credit cards be increased - they were. Somehow, though, I bet a look at Filner's federal credit card would reveal things far worse than a blender.

La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage

Thank you San Diego City Comptroller Ken Whitfield for your Integrity. Plus forcing the office of the mayor to follow City rules for reinbursements. The Ministerial Check and Balanced system and City Council Audit Policies worked at intended. Great news. Since the mayor did not give receipts, no payments from the City's Treasury could be made. Unauthorized charges (including carelessly losing receipts) were made. But no payment out of the City's Treasury. The legal loophole to charge the mayor with a Section 108 violation is thrown out the window. There is no malfeasance. Instead of relying on the San Diego City Attorney Goldsmith's Legal Memorandum for interpretation of our City Charter, the City Council should ask for legal advice from State Attorney General Kamala Harris, and State Controller John Chiang.

La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage subscribermember

Thank you San Diego City Comptroller Ken Whitfield for your Integrity. Plus forcing the office of the mayor to follow City rules for reinbursements. The Ministerial Check and Balanced system and City Council Audit Policies worked at intended. Great news. Since the mayor did not give receipts, no payments from the City's Treasury could be made. Unauthorized charges (including carelessly losing receipts) were made. But no payment out of the City's Treasury. The legal loophole to charge the mayor with a Section 108 violation is thrown out the window. There is no malfeasance. Instead of relying on the San Diego City Attorney Goldsmith's Legal Memorandum for interpretation of our City Charter, the City Council should ask for legal advice from State Attorney General Kamala Harris, and State Controller John Chiang.

David Cohen
David Cohen subscriber

VOSD continues to add to the piling on with great enthusiasm. Give it up--you cannot outdo the U(seless)-T(ribune) in that regard. Please do not misconstrue my comment as support for Filner.

Pat Flannery
Pat Flannery

“I’ve got a lot of fucking money in the bank” - from the San Diego City Comptroller Ken Whitfield? Now I see the wisdom of the previous Mayor, Jerry Sanders’, tightly enforcing a policy of not allowing any City staff, other than authorized City spokespersons, to speak to the media.

Adam McLane
Adam McLane

@dillonliam - I think you could win a Pulitzer if you can discover and unveil the real reason this story is happening. So much of this reminds me of how the media fell for and focused on Lewinski while Clinton botched the handling of Rwanda and Bosnia... what turned out to be a double genocide under his watch. Sadly, the American people know more about what was on a blue dress than they know of the tens of thousands murdered because of their race. I don't know what the real story is. But clearly the real story here is not that a career politician is a sleeze bag who charges illegal stuff to his official credit card. We, the people, know this is just a cover up for Filner's "Bosnia." So while you are taking the bait of the next story about Filner's lack-of-discretion with 67 year old desk works, start sniffing out the dead bodies. My hunch is that the smoke is this silly stuff, but the fire has something to do with the Mira Mesa & Rolando land developments that his office accepted bribes for to avoid open meetings. Do that, Liam, and you're a legend.

Adam McLane
Adam McLane subscriber

@dillonliam - I think you could win a Pulitzer if you can discover and unveil the real reason this story is happening. So much of this reminds me of how the media fell for and focused on Lewinski while Clinton botched the handling of Rwanda and Bosnia... what turned out to be a double genocide under his watch. Sadly, the American people know more about what was on a blue dress than they know of the tens of thousands murdered because of their race. I don't know what the real story is. But clearly the real story here is not that a career politician is a sleeze bag who charges illegal stuff to his official credit card. We, the people, know this is just a cover up for Filner's "Bosnia." So while you are taking the bait of the next story about Filner's lack-of-discretion with 67 year old desk works, start sniffing out the dead bodies. My hunch is that the smoke is this silly stuff, but the fire has something to do with the Mira Mesa & Rolando land developments that his office accepted bribes for to avoid open meetings. Do that, Liam, and you're a legend.

kareninthesun
kareninthesun

This city continues to be an embarassment. What is with Whitfield's last quote about saving money and the language he used? How about honoring the position he has been given and being an example of leadership instead of this? And Liam, you couldn't clean this up a little bit? How about an editor catching it? Just more political fun for the late night comedians to pull from

Vic Asselin
Vic Asselin

I don't care about the blender, a box lunch at Indigo or a phony dinner - that's not at all what this is about. Filner has learned to milk the system over the past 2 decades in DC - and there are plenty more like him, both sides of the aisle. The Paris boondoggle has always bothered me. Remember the "I went there to get jobs for San Diego" story? Heard that one lately. Trent Siebert has a piece in the UT online entitled "Filner France trip planned for four" - suggest you take a look at it. Not 3, not 2, not 1 - but 4. See below.... To quote from it..... One email shows a city staffer seeking an increase in her city credit card limit to pay for airfare for Filner and his entourage. “Please increase my P-card transaction limit and monthly limit this month to $30,000 so that I am able to purchase airfare for the Mayor and staff (total 4) for an international trip planned for next week,” acting deputy human resources director Rimah Khouri said in a June 14, 2013 email to the city’s charge card administrator. 4 tickets....one for Filner, 2 for the security detail and 1 for ?????? Could it be Bronwyn? And if the Iranian organization was buying Filner a ticket, why was the city buying him a ticket? And it the Iranian organization was going to reimburse the ticket, to whom was the check going to be paid to? Lots of questions, any answers from the Filner Fans? A lot of his friends at city hall must be getting nervous, I know I would be. Lawyers are expensive, depositions are extremely unpleasant, especially those that are videotaped. After Faulconer's hearings some folks will be enjoying these experiences (probably including your mayor) and perjury can be problematical. How many people do you think will want to take the fall fro this clown? Incidentally, does anyone know where he is, has been, what he's doing and when he will return.

La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage

Online Facebook comment. https://www.facebook.com/WeDemandDueProcessForMayorFilner "A coup is in the works. Keep in mind the Charter says unauthorized "payments" not "charges" Under the section, Goldsmith said in a memo this week to council members, "every city officer who willfully approves or allows an unauthorized payment from the city treasury is subject to removal from office." was any payment even made on these charges from the City Treasury? doesnt look like the card was ever even paid so no."We demand due process for Mayor Filnerhttps://www.facebook.com/WeDemandDueProcessForMayorFilnerAs more time goes by and more press conferences are held more questions emerge about the validity...

La Playa Heritage
La Playa Heritage subscribermember

Online Facebook comment. https://www.facebook.com/WeDemandDueProcessForMayorFilner "A coup is in the works. Keep in mind the Charter says unauthorized "payments" not "charges" Under the section, Goldsmith said in a memo this week to council members, "every city officer who willfully approves or allows an unauthorized payment from the city treasury is subject to removal from office." was any payment even made on these charges from the City Treasury? doesnt look like the card was ever even paid so no."We demand due process for Mayor Filnerhttps://www.facebook.com/WeDemandDueProcessForMayorFilnerAs more time goes by and more press conferences are held more questions emerge about the validity...

David Crossley
David Crossley

Great--now we will have groups of people yelling "due process" and "Bob must go" back and forth at each other. Maybe Filner supporters will break out the 5 "Due Process for Mayor Filner" signs again.

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

Great--now we will have groups of people yelling "due process" and "Bob must go" back and forth at each other. Maybe Filner supporters will break out the 5 "Due Process for Mayor Filner" signs again.

David Crossley
David Crossley

That would be section 108, but I get the point. So the mayor makes these purchases, and they WERE eventually paid for. Did the mayor reimburse the city for these charges? Who actually paid the bill? And if the city paid the bill, that doesn't necessarily mean payment for those charges were approved, it just means the bill was paid, which was done to protect the city's credit rating (allegedly). The fact that the mayor didn't furnish receipts tells me that there was indeed something to hide.

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

That would be section 108, but I get the point. So the mayor makes these purchases, and they WERE eventually paid for. Did the mayor reimburse the city for these charges? Who actually paid the bill? And if the city paid the bill, that doesn't necessarily mean payment for those charges were approved, it just means the bill was paid, which was done to protect the city's credit rating (allegedly). The fact that the mayor didn't furnish receipts tells me that there was indeed something to hide.

David Hall
David Hall

Wanna bet Ken Whitfield would have kept his profane mouth shut and not given that interview while Sanders was mayor, regardless of how much f'n money Whitfield has in the bank? He had to know his words were going on the record. Is that really the kind of measured response we want in a Comptroller?

David Crossley
David Crossley

Had not even noticed that quote until just now. Wow.

David Cohen
David Cohen

VOSD continues to add to the piling on with great enthusiasm. Give it up--you cannot outdo the U(seless)-T(ribune) in that regard. Please do not misconstrue my comment as support for Filner.

David Crossley
David Crossley

Maybe you could link up arm-in-arm with Filner and sing "Kumbaya" or something...assuming you could ever find Filner.

John Pilch
John Pilch

Katheryn at La Playa Heritage: It's time to wake up to the facts presented to date. It appears Bob Filner can't awaken to a new day without yet another issue unearthed and/or another victim of his boorish behavior coming forward. Looks like you, the unions, and a few others are his only support. Must be a lonely life without all the hustle and bustle that was Bob Filner. Hope you're calling him directly and bringing some cheer into his life. BTW, his Due Process is in the wings, so stay tuned.

David Crossley
David Crossley

Filner will probably lose the mayor's office because of improper use of a credit card. You can think it's a "coup", you can think it's a "witchhunt", or you can think whatever else you want. If Filner loses his job because of this, he is just plain dumb. There is no one else to blame but Filner. Don't worry--he WILL get his due process.

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

Maybe you could link up arm-in-arm with Filner and sing "Kumbaya" or something...assuming you could ever find Filner.

John Pilch
John Pilch subscriber

Katheryn at La Playa Heritage: It's time to wake up to the facts presented to date. It appears Bob Filner can't awaken to a new day without yet another issue unearthed and/or another victim of his boorish behavior coming forward. Looks like you, the unions, and a few others are his only support. Must be a lonely life without all the hustle and bustle that was Bob Filner. Hope you're calling him directly and bringing some cheer into his life. BTW, his Due Process is in the wings, so stay tuned.

David Crossley
David Crossley subscriber

Filner will probably lose the mayor's office because of improper use of a credit card. You can think it's a "coup", you can think it's a "witchhunt", or you can think whatever else you want. If Filner loses his job because of this, he is just plain dumb. There is no one else to blame but Filner. Don't worry--he WILL get his due process.