Local public officials have too much leeway to abuse taxpayer money through travel and business expenses, said a report issued Thursday.

The report from the San Diego County Taxpayers Association examined policies at 11 large local public agencies and found few require coach travel for all flights, most allow certain employees to approve their own expenses and most don’t use federal guidelines for per diem travel costs.

“In many instances, staff and board members are given the opportunity to be reimbursed for expenses not actually incurred, fly first-class, and get their dry cleaning done all on the taxpayer’s dime,” the report said.

We took an extensive look at travel expenses at the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority last summer, and found questionable expenses including $1,200 for Chargers tickets in London for the authority’s chairman and someone who turned out to be his niece’s husband.

The report recommends agencies tighten up and more clearly define their policies.

It has a few interesting nuggets about individual agencies practices, too. Both the Unified Port of San Diego and the San Diego Convention Center Corp. allow staffers and employees to expense alcohol if it’s used for business purposes.

But the agencies’ responses to the Taxpayers Association’s record requests didn’t reveal if alcohol was expensed. Instead they listed expenses in categories like dinner, tips or hotel. The association posted the Convention Center’s response on its website.

— LIAM DILLON

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