- Associated Press - Saturday, October 11, 2014

MERRILLVILLE, Ind. (AP) - A Lake County board created to promote recycling and keep trash out of landfills has used taxpayer money for hotel stays, a surfboard and dresses from Victoria’s Secret, a newspaper investigation of board credit card bills has found.

Longtime district director Jeff Langbehn was dismissed amid a spending controversy. But The Times in Munster (https://bit.ly/1satWZB ) discovered financial issues in the district extend beyond the incident that cost Langbehn his job.

The newspaper found more than $1,330 was charged in 2008 to Langbehn’s district credit card so a board member and three family members could attend the musical “Jersey Boys” in Chicago and stay in a hotel. It also found more than $15,000 had been spent for clothing and accessories from 2007 to June 2014, including more than $13,400 for clothing for district employees, board members and associates. Those purchases included nearly $200 charged in 2010 at Victoria’s Secret for dresses worn by waste district educators to a district-sponsored teacher appreciation and Earth Day dinner and a recycling award ceremony in Nashville, Tennessee.

Other expenses included more than $43,400 for travel and conference and training fees and more than $2,100 for engraved Fossil watches, gift cards for interns and a surfboard used as a prop for the Enviromobile, a vehicle used by waste district educators for recycling programs.

Langbehn did not respond to a request for comment. Acting Director Jeanette Romano and board Chairman David Hamm said they are looking at ways to improve the review of how waste district credit cards are used or eliminate their use altogether.

“You have to ask yourself if you would do this kind of expenditure on your own dime,” noted board member George Jerome, who also is Griffith’s clerk-treasurer. “If you wouldn’t do it on your own dime, then you shouldn’t do it on the taxpayer’s.”

Waste district board member Bob Clemons, who represents Crown Point, said he blamed Langbehn, in part, for not highlighting such expenses to the board.

But he noted that the charges that some board members are now calling excessive were all approved by the board as expense claims, month after month, after the purchases were made.

“What has been done in the past, board members should be ashamed of,” Clemons said. “We need to restructure the whole district to make it as fail-safe as possible.

“This board is accountable whether they like it or not.”

___

Information from: The Times, https://www.thetimesonline.com

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