Audit of Charleston mayor finds some questionable practices, calls for policy changes

Attorney says no indications mayor, wife personally benefited financially from their actions

VIDEO: Audit of Charleston mayor finds some questionable practices, calls for policy changes

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - An audit of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg’s office’s has found some questionable spending practices and is calling for changes in some policies.

The audit found among other things, issues with travel and meal expenses and the use of city issued credit cards. There were some expenses that the auditor said did not benefit the public.

Among them business cards for the mayor’s wife which triggered the audit in the first place.

The auditor also found problems with city funds being used to pay for a birthday party for an individual and to take out a newspaper ad to congratulate another person on his birthday.

The auditor also said there were policy violations with the use of procurement or P cards by employees, including no detailed receipts or what kind of business was discussed.

Michael R. Burchstead, a former general counsel to the State Ethics Commission was hired as special counsel to the audit.

“I found no self-dealing by the mayor or any actions or conduct showing the Mayor or Mrs. Tecklenburg have personally financially benefited from their actions,” Burchstead said in his report. “No action of Mayor Tecklenburg or his family appears to be borne out of desire to use the Office of the Mayor for financial gain, but rather they appear to be motivated by their interest in representing the citizens of the City.”

The audit covers the mayor’s office expenses from January 2016 through 2019.

“This process identifies something that could improve our city accounting and our city practices,” Tecklenburg said. "I’m all for it. It’s all for the good.”

The chairman of the audit committee, Mike Seekings is running for mayor as are two other council members, Harry Griffin and Gary White.

When Seekings was asked if there was was any conflict of interest, Seekings said, "Not now, but if we go forward and we see what actions might be taken, certainly going to look at that very hard at city council.”

Tecklenburg said he believes politics played a role in the call for the audit.

“I know it’s the election season, but there’s important work to be done between now and November," Tecklenburg said in a statement Monday night. "That’s the job we all signed up for, and I look forward to getting back to it tomorrow night at our next City Council meeting.”

In an news release from Tecklenburg’s campaign, key findings from the report state all expenditures by the mayor’s office were legal under state and local law and that Tecklenburg reimbursed the city for his wife’s travel expenses when she accompanied him on business trips. The report also stated there was nothing improper about Tecklenburg’s wife driving him to events in his city vehicle because the mayor has “the authority to permit any licensed, properly insured driver to operate his city vehicle -- a necessary safety precaution when he is conducting other city business en route.” The audit also found all work contracted by the mayor’s office was properly completed and billed by vendors, according to the release. The report recommended that city procurement policy be brought into line with city procurement law, or vice versa.

Griffin has claimed the mayor misused funds by having his spouse’s name on his city business card. Tecklenburg says the difference to add his wife Sandy’s information was about $10 extra and that their corporate council explained that no laws were broken. The mayor offered to reimburse the city for the business card.

Some other council members said having Tecklenburg’s spouse on his business card was a policy violation, although it was never established.

The report states policy disagreements are not ethics issues, according to the release from the Tecklenburg campaign.

“Under Charleston’s ‘strong mayor’ form of government, the mayor has broad latitude to make management decisions regarding city policies and procedures, including those related to personnel, contracting, and what information is printed on his business cards,” the release states. “Disagreements resulting from those decisions are not ethics issues.”

According to Tecklenburg’s campaign, the audit was conducted by the city’s independent auditor’s office with assistance from Burchstead and is estimated to have cost city taxpayers approximately $50,000.

Monday’s report was a preliminary report. The full audit is expected to be presented to the committee on July 25.

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