Despite our city’s budget deficit and the ongoing local fiscal crisis, Orlando City Commissioners are spending public tax dollars pretty much as they please, according to a new investigative report from WFTV’s Daralene Jones. In just weeks, Mayor Buddy Dyer and the City Council will vote on raising local taxes and cutting services, but the pricey perks for City Commissioners are adding up.
Commissioners are spending $300,000 in public tax dollars with no real rules or accountability. Some of the Commissioners gave awkward responses when questioned on camera about their expenses, and some clearly didn’t want to discuss the expenses on camera.
Commissioner Sam Ings spent the most public money – $59,000 – on expenses including community parties, travel without documentation and thousands of dollars to a business consulting group. Commissioner Jim Gray spent public money mostly on office supplies and meals, including lunch with another city employee. Commissioner Tony Ortiz spent $44,000 in public dollars, including a trip to Puerto Rico and a contribution to an organization of which he is a member of the board. Commissioner Robert Stuart spent $41,000 in public money, including replacing office furniture and a contribution to his alma mater. Commissioner Patty Sheehan spent $48,000 on selective spending, providing contributions to various organizations and charities in the area which she supports. Newly elected Commissioner Regina Hill spent the least money so far, but according to the report, did charge taxpayers for a trip to a Florida Democratic Party conference.
We need to be very cautious that these expenses by City Commissioners are not buying support (or future political support) or worse, unfairly influencing business in Orlando. While some expenses may seem minor at first glance, these charges add up for local taxpayers who are now being asked to pay more in taxes and receive less in city services. When Commissioners spend like this, it emphasizes how our local financial priorities are out of whack.
From the WFTV report:
We’re told there are no rules on what the cash and their operating budgets can be used for, even though it’s your tax money.
“It’s truly remarkable that City Commissioners continue to spend public tax dollars like it’s their own personal slush fund.”
(Mike Cantone, Political Watchdog)
We need local officials and City Commissioners focused on crafting public policy and fixing the financial mess they helped get us into. Orlando does not need more questionable handouts, selective spending and public expenses. And at the very least, we need more transparency around the expenses and more accountability.
For what it’s worth, the City of Orlando is now saying each City Commissioner will now be limited to $95,000 in the upcoming budget year.