By Fran Spielman
City employees will be required to take public transportation to meetings and assignments during the work day or explain why not, under a strict new mileage and travel reimbursement policy tailor-made to save $1 million.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel ordered City Comptroller Amer Ahmad to craft the crackdown after a string of abuses made possible by the city’s liberal reimbursement policy.
The loosey-goosey rules allowed city employees to be reimbursed for car washes, transportation to jury duty, parking tickets, excessive parking costs and even late fees on personal credit cards.
The new guidelines—and the savings generated by them—will be built into the mayor’s 2012 budget.
For the first time, city employees who need to go somewhere during the work day will be required to use public transportation. If that’s not possible—either because of timing, location or security—they will be required to explain those reasons on reimbursement forms.
The use of personal vehicles will be discouraged. Detailed reimbursement forms will include beginning and ending odometer readings listing all locations visited, along with a map that shows miles traveled. The city will also establish daily minimums and maximums, along with a maximum monthly reimbursement.
To shine the light on abuses, city departments and other agencies of local government will be required to post travel reimbursement information each month on the city’s website.
Emanuel predicted that the new mileage reimbursement and travel policies would “increase accountability and efficiency across city government and save taxpayers money.”
Ahmad agreed that the crackdown “provides the necessary structure to ensure that city travel is efficient and, above all, an appropriate use of city resources.”
Earlier this year, Emanuel cut from 500 to just eight the number of credit cards used by local government agencies–and banned the use of petty cash altogether–after alleged abuses that ousted the chiefs of the Chicago Housing Authority and Chicago Park District.
The crackdown followed a joint investigation by the Better Government Association and WFLD-TV that uncovered alleged credit card abuses at the CHA and the Park District.
The card issued to Chicago Housing Authority CEO Lewis Jordan had been used to pay for costly meals at such upscale restaurants as Carmine’s and Gibsons.
The investigation also found CHA credit cards were used to buy thousands of dollars worth of flowers, cakes and holiday gifts for employees, a suite at the United Center and to pay fines stemming from red-light camera tickets.
At the time, Emanuel condemned the alleged abuses, called a halt to credit card spending and ordered a sweeping audit of agency policies. Jordan subsequently resigned.
The investigation also hastened the departure of Park District Superintendent Tim Mitchell, a political operative for former Mayor Richard M. Daley who had been angling to stay under Emanuel.