- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - County commissioners around metro Atlanta received $465,000 in supplemental expense allowances over the past six years with minimal oversight, according to a review by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia News Lab.

The allowances ranging annually from $3,000 to $7,200 are paid directly to commissioners and are supposed to cover job-related expenses. But in practice, there are few rules governing the payments.

Clayton Commission Chairman Jeff Turner used some of his allowance for clothing and car washes. Some commissioners also sought reimbursements for expenses that appeared to be covered by their monthly supplement.

A longtime citizen watchdog in Cobb County, Larry Savage, said the public deserves more financial transparency. Without it, he said, “commissioners are able to escape public scrutiny.”

“It’s not a matter of right or wrong,” Savage said. “It’s a matter of what we can see or cannot see.”

The newspaper examined how commissioners in Cobb, Clayton and DeKalb counties used their expense supplements, which are paid in addition to a commissioner’s monthly salary. Commissioners in Fulton and Gwinnett do not receive supplements and instead seek reimbursements for approved job-related expenses, such as travel.

None of the commissioners were required to explain how they spent their supplements.

For example, the county charter in DeKalb allows the commissioners a $300 monthly “expense allowance.” It does not make clear how the money can be spent. Budget director Jay Vinicki said commissioners simply receive the payments “by the grace of God.”

In Cobb, finance chairman Jim Pehrson said the supplements are understood to cover commissioners’ travel within the county. However, records show commissioners are still collecting additional expense reimbursements for in-county travel.

In 2011, commission Chairman Tim Lee drove to events and meetings for what county officials said was “routine” county business at a total cost to taxpayers of $483. Reimbursed expenses included travel to Marietta Daily Journal headquarters and to a water authority meeting, both just a few miles from the county offices. Lee did not respond to requests for comment.

Clayton Chairman Turner spent more than $3,500 of his allowances on expenses such as food, travel, parking and baggage fees. He also used it to pay for car washes, dry cleaning and clothing, according to county records.

Between 2013 and 2014, Turner spent more than $700 at D&K; Suit City and K&G; Men’s Superstore in Morrow for clothing.

“I am full-time chairman, and usually employees get a clothing allowance,” Turner said. “So I use my stipend to try to make sure that I have the proper attire to make sure I carry out my duty.”

Clayton County officials did not respond to questions about whether those expenses were allowable. County officials said they are working on clarifying the rules.

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