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Committee seeks stricter city travel policy
A citizen review committee says it wants to see more accountability for Brunswick's elected officials.

Members of Brunswick Audit Committee said at a meeting Wednesday they will draft a proposed update to the city's travel policy to address discrepancies about who must file a detailed travel report. The new rules also would tighten restrictions on how much can be reimbursed for travel-related expenses.

The proposal will be reviewed by the city's legal department and presented to the city commission for approval.

The current plan excludes city commissioners and the mayor from having to submit a written travel report and allows reimbursement for expenses incurred by spouses of the commission or the mayor.

City employees, on the other hand, are required to submit written reports and cannot be reimbursed for expenses made by spouses.

While city employees report to a supervisor, commissioners report to their constituents, giving them little direct oversight.

"When a commissioner doesn't turn in his receipts, there's no one with the power to tell them, until the next voting cycle, to turn in their receipts," said audit committee chair Bob Ingram.

Finance Director Kathy Mills and City Manager Bill Weeks told the committee that they are not aware of any travel policy abuse but believe that the policy should be tightened to prevent future problems.

Policies could be created that allow the city's finance department to deduct any cash advances or charges that are not reconciled from an employee's paycheck or a commissioner's monthly stipend.

There is also concern over a lack of a clear credit card policy. Currently, some commissioners have credit cards issued in their own names under the city's account, but it wasn't always that way.

When committee member Brad Brown served as Brunswick mayor six years ago, commissioners were required to check out the city credit card from the finance department.

"I didn't carry it around in my pocket," Brown said.

It wasn't immediately clear which commissioners have credit cards.

Following budgetary problems, the city has significantly cut back on the travel it allows, finance director Mills said.

"Now basically nobody is going anywhere except for police officers and firefighters to be trained," Mills said.

Brown said this might be the opportune time to make a change.

"There's limited travel occurring, so what better time to tighten it? Then when more travel starts happening you can say, 'Well here's the policy,'" said Brown.

The audit committee also elected its newest member, Carl Gabrini, as its next chairman.

Gabrini is an accounting professor at College of Coastal Georgia and has a background in government auditing.

The next meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. Jan. 9 at City Hall, 601 Gloucester St.

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