Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Exclusive: Board of Education Member Spending Reveals over 100 Local Restaurant Meals, Local Hotel Stays, Local Mileage


PARENTS' COALITION OF MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND

Press Release
contact@parentscoalitionmc.com
For Immediate Release



Public Information Act Request of Board of Education Member Spending Reveals Repetitive Local Mileage, Local Hotel Stays, and over 100 Local Restaurant Meals


Parents' Coalition Calls for Immediate Release of Expense Reports and Credit Card Records for Remaining Board of Education Members

Montgomery County, Maryland, April 30, 2014 - Today the Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland is releasing 300 pages of credit card and expense reports for two Montgomery County Board of Education members.  The records cover the time period from January 1, 2012, through February 28, 2014, and were obtained through a Maryland Public Information Act request.

The expense reports from these two Board members reveal:
  • mileage charges for Board members commuting between their homes and the Board office
  • multiple mileage charges in one day to the same location
  • over 100 local restaurant meals, including meals where Board members are dining with each other
  • local hotel stays, including room service
  • multiple credit card charges for personal travel and expenses
In all of these records the signature of the "supervisor" is a staff member in the Board of Education office.  According to a February 17, 2010, letter from the MCPS Director of Public Information these charges should have been approved by MCPS Chief Operating Officer Larry Bowers.

Public education dollars are precious.  As Superintendent Joshua Starr and then Board of Education President Christopher Barclay stated in their March 2013 letter in the Gazette, even 36 cents a day can make a difference in the education of a child.

While recognizing that Board of Education members serve part time, still it is important the Board members be frugal in their use of school funds for purposes outside the classroom, and that they be conscientious in overseeing their own charges to reflect how careful they are in overseeing MCPS expenditures. 
In light of the spending revealed in these documents, the Parents' Coalition calls on the Board of Education to post all MCPS credit card and expense reports to increase support of public education and confidence in the administration of our public schools by increasing transparency.  We request that the Board of Education begin by releasing the expense and credit card reports for the remaining 6 Board members.

We ask the Montgomery County Inspector General to offer suggestions on how MCPS can improve its financial management practices so inappropriate expenses are not approved and mistakes are corrected in a more timely manner.

In requesting the full disclosure of Board member and MCPS expense reports we cite President Barack Obama's Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government
Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.
About The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland: The Parents' Coalition of Montgomery County, Maryland was formed in 2003. The group seeks to achieve the goals of coherent, content-rich curriculum standards; high expectations combined with timely remediation and acceleration; a wider range of educational options for parents and children; greater transparency and accountability; and meaningful community input.


  • Board of Education member Patricia O'Neill Expense Report and Credit Card Records (34 pages)
2012-2014
  • Board of Education member Christopher Barclay Expense Report and Credit Card Records (268 pages)
2012
January - April
June - September
September - December 

2013
January - March
March - May
June - September
September - December 

2014 (January and February only)

37 comments:

  1. Given how little we pay our Board of Education, I can understand allowing them to be reimbursed for mileage, so that they can pay for the wear and tear on their cars when they're used in service to the public school students in the county. If I had my my, they'd be doing more outreach and driving around, not less. OTOH, I don't know about the need to have food at meetings - even though I think meetings are critical. And I think there could be some better management of meeting planning. And I'm all about transparency. So let's get the rest of these credit card charges and see if we can help them come up with a better way of organizing their schedules!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. IRS regulations do not allow commuting expenses to an employee's primary workplace to be treated as reimbursable (nontaxable) business expenses.

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    2. "I'm all about transparency" says Unknown. Were you intending to be funny? If so, congratulations. I presume the rest of your posting was also intended to garner a chuckle.

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    3. RE: Louis Wilen - I wondered about IRS rules too - shouldn't these meals be treated as taxable income as well? Why would school board members be able to charge back so many meals to the school district simply because they have chosen to hold their meetings in restaurants? These meetings could take place elsewhere, not during mealtimes in a restaurant.

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    4. Bona Fide business meetings that include meals can be treated as non-taxable, reimbursable business expenses under IRS rules. But Barclay (and other BOE and MCPS employees) abuse this rule. Why are "meetings" between co-workers (BOE members and MCPS staff) held so frequently at restaurants? Carver center and other MCPS facilities have plenty of offices in which meetings can be held -- especially meetings of only a few people.

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    5. Louis - commuting expenses to an employee's primary place of employment are reimbursable (nontaxable) business expenses, but is serving as a schoolboard member one's primary employment? Judging from Barclay's lavish taxpayer-supported lifestyle, it appears to be his primary source of income.

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    6. We know that for Mr. Barclay the BOE position was his only employment during the time period shown in these expense reports.

      ---------------------
      The Washington Post:

      Barclay has spoken before of personal financial stress. In an interview this year, he said he has not had private-sector employment since his job as a project manager for Verizon ended several years ago. He said his sole source of income has been his $18,500 annual salary as a school board member. In the years he served as president of the board (2010 and 2013), he received an additional $4,000. He also said a recent divorce and college tuition for his daughters have added to the strain.

      http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/maryland-news/montogomery-co-school-board-member-pays-back-almost-1500-in-unauthorized-expenses/2014/05/22/87627a4e-e1b3-11e3-8dcc-d6b7fede081a_story.html

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    7. Thanks for the confirmation! When he was first appointed to the Board and in his re-election campaign, he noted he was a project manager for Verizon. His recent campaign website didn't say anything about him being unemployed (at least by the private sector).

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    8. Just to be clear -- commuting expenses to one's primary place of work are not tax-deductible. If the employer reimburses an employee for commuting expenses (which is very unusual), the reimbursement is to be treated as taxable income and is supposed to be reported on the employee's W-2.
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    9. Are these public officials required to make their tax returns public?

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  2. Kudos to the Parents' Coalition for making this information public. District 5 voters are very interested to see how Mr. Barclay has spent hard-earned taxpayer dollars. Hotels in DC? Please.

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  3. @Unknown, do you think it's ok that Mr. Barclay charged to stay at a hotel in DC?

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  4. CHRIS, SAY IT AIN'T SO. WE'RE PAYING FOR THIS?
    04/04/2013 $78.00 Matchbox, Rockville, Dinner meeting with Dr. Staham
    04/09/2013 $65.00 Matchbox, Rockville, Lunch meeting with Mr. Bartree
    04/17/2013 $70.36 P.F. Chang's Rockville Dinner meeting with Mr. Williams

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  5. First, Louis, I'm not certain about whether the IRS regulations you're quoting are accurate because that assumes that Pat lists her job at the BOE as her primary employment. Remember that the compensation for the Board of Education is an absurdity - and thus, expenses for car use may well be included. BUT, it's important to do so in a responsible way. If I'm elected to the Board of Education, I commit to full transparency, including providing to everyone any and all rules regarding compensation for the position as well as cutting any credit card provided to me in half. As to Chris's expenses, I plead guilty to not going through them with a fine tooth comb. No - we shouldn't be paying for hotel stays in DC. No we shouldn't be paying for expensive meals. What we should be focusing our expenses on are things that will make a difference in the lives of our students. And, BTW, that includes the Office of Shared Accountability, who should be working right now to explore what programs are effectively serving the needs of our gap students, our special need students ... really ALL our students, and which are not. Why Dr. Starr needs another $200K to do this is beyond me. And, BTW, I have no problems not being anonymous.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Primary (or secondary) employment is irrelevant. The BOE members are employees (W-2 recipients), not contractors (1099 recipients). They have a principal workplace, and as such, commuting expenses are not considered business expenses by the IRS.

      The salary of BOE members is also irrelevant. Commuting expenses to one's primary workplace are not considered business expenses by the IRS, regardless of income. That said, an employer can reimburse employees for commuting expenses (which is a very unusual practice), but the reimbursements must then be included on the employee's W-2 as ordinary income. The salary of BOE members is already public record, so how about if the BOE members release their BOE W-2's so that the public can see if the commuting reimbursements are being reported as income to the IRS?

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    2. Also, to be clear -- a person with multiple employers would have multiple "primary" workplaces. In any case, so far as can be determined, neither of the BOE members whose expense reports were released have jobs other than their BOE jobs.

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    3. Interesting point, Louis. When I filed my candidacy papers, I had to complete forms which included information about my income. I assumed that becoming a public official meant that my and my family's income, including all data included on a tax return, would be a matter of public record. In the interest of serving the kids of this county, I have no problem with this. Most of the people who are education advocates in this county aren't doing this for the money. So, yes, in addition to understanding how credit card dollars are being spent, let's confirm how everyone is being compensated. That's what transparency means.

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    4. I personally have used hotel rooms in DC when attending conferences for an organization in which I am active. And, the organization paid for them. Yet this is perfectly reasonable since the meetings went until 10:00pm and the morning meetings the next day would begin at 6:00 or 7:00am. Considering travel time and traffic, how would one get eight hours sleep without taking a hotel room? Surely, I would agree that for a meeting which starts at 9:00am and ends at 6:00pm, requiring an individual to sleep at home would be reasonable. It depends upon the circumstances.

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    5. What organization paid for your room? Taxpayers or private entity?

      Did you get room service while you were there? Mr. Barclay did. See the records. Would your organization pay for room service? That is, when you are on travel do you have a per diem? Did you notice in the O'Neill and Barclay records there is no mention of per diem? Skys the limit?

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  6. Closing the gap is just a gimmick
    That many officials try to mimic
    Splurging with expensive meals
    While making their shady deals.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Pat, can't you and you buddies schedule your meetings so that taxpayers don't have to buy you meals?
    7/08/2013 $38.13 Dupars Hamburger Hamlet, Bethesda - Lunch meeting with Smodrowoski
    7/17/2013 $38.93 Dupars Hamburger Hamlet, Bethesda - Breakfast meeting with Zuckerman

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  8. I remember when Smondrowski was running. So honest! So concerned. Voters were fooled again.

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  9. If "tax regulations do not allow commuting expenses to an employee's primary workplace to be treated as reimbursable (nontaxable) business expenses," then WHY does MCPS APPROVE these submitted BOE expenses?

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    Replies
    1. "MCPS" doesn't approve these expenses. Look at the forms. They have all been signed as "approved" by Board of Education staff member Roland IKheloa. Yes, a person that works for the BOE approves their travel and expense forms.
      But, the money for BOE travel and expenses is authorized by the County Council!

      http://parentscoalitionmc.blogspot.com/2014/05/county-council-provides-for-travel-and.html

      So the question is, why does the County Council believe that these travel and expenses are a necessary part of a public school education budget.

      Especially the cake. Why is a strawberry cake needed for a public school budget? Anyone have a clue?

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  10. So, the REAL question is how do we stop it? Because it's not in the best interests of anyone - not the kids, not taxpayers, not Montgomery County's stakeholders, not anyone. (And again, I'm not talking about mileage reimbursement. I want the BOE out and about MORE not less, engaging with MORE stakeholders and ensuring that our policies reflect our entire county). The issue is dining - such as having so many breakfast and lunch meetings and hotel stays - such as putting Chris up at a hotel in DC when he could have gone home. So, 1) Change the policy so that acceptable expenses are public and clear. 2) Eliminate charge cards, so that there's no way to run up expenses on the county's dime. 3) Publish regular reports (minimum quarterly) on who's spending what, where and how. Transparency. That's what it looks like. It shouldn't take a FOIA.

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  11. Unknown, this kind of thing doesn't happen unless it IS in the best interests of someone. And who is that someone? A member of the Board of Education who gets reimbursed for mileage to go to their work station. A member of the Board of Education who sleeps at a hotel in DC and charges room and meals to the taxpayers. Board of Education members who lunch with each other and pay themselves from the taxpayers' hard-earned money. How do we stop it? Don't vote for these people.

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  12. Anonymous, I fear that you are mistaking people taking advantage of a system for the belief that it's in the best interests of the system. We both know that it's in the best interests of nobody. As much as it may be in human nature to look for this sort of opportunity, I would hope that someone who seeks to serve our children would avoid this. And if you don't know the identity of everyone taking advantage of this, you don't know who NOT to vote for. I consider Pat's minimal usage (and her mileage from her home office to meetings, again, perfectly acceptable within the confines of IRS regulations) not that great an issue - even though, I wish, breakfast and lunch meetings were eliminated. There's a BIG difference between a report that's 34 pages in length and one that's 268 pages long. On the other hand, should Mr. Barclay lose his bid for the District 5 seat, he'll be back on the Board of Education. And there may be others on the Board that are equally taking advantage of this.

    So, in agreement with the idea of total transparency sought by the Parent's Coalition, I ask ALL Board of Education members to supply their credit card reports. Additionally, I ask the BOE and County Council to create a new policy which prohibits meal-time meetings unless they're caused by scheduling conflicts (such as an all-day board meeting followed by an evening hearing), and in that case, the price of the meal should be capped. If the BOE won't take a stand against this practice and/or won't provide their credit card expenditures, then you know who NOT to vote for.

    And again, I pledge that if elected, I won't take a credit card from MCPS. I'm not running to attend conferences or dine at nice restaurants. I'm running to give a voice to those who haven't been heard.

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    Replies
    1. Anonymous, who are you?

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  13. What? If Barclay doesn't win his bid for the County Council, he will be back on the Board of Ed? Is that true? If that is true, it's a win-win for him.

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  14. Darnestown CowboyMay 23, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    Do the Montgomery County Council Members have credit cards and if so are their charges posted? How about the County Executive and/or his staff?

    ReplyDelete
  15. Q1: Do they have to be fed in order to conduct their business?
    Q2: Why do the taxpayers elect starving individuals?

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  16. @Anonymous May 22, 2014 at 10:58 AM: If Barclay loses his bid for council member, he will retain his seat on the BOE for another two years. However, if he wins the Council member election, he will no longer have a BOE-issued credit card.

    Council members are not issued credit cards by the county. Therefore, he will have to pay for his restaurant meals and hotel stays himself if he wins a seat on the Council -- but that should be no problem for Barclay, since his salary will be greatly increased.

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  17. Louis (and everyone):

    Have you seen the statement on Chris's campaign page?
    http://www.christopherbarclay.org/statement_from_christopher_barclay_regarding_board_of_education_expenses

    He supports a task force review of MCPS/BOE credit card policies. I've been in work groups. I've been in steering committees. This is one of those issues that doesn't require one. Just cut up the cards, set a cap on dining (if allowed at all), and remember your goal. Public education dollars for public education. It's not about feeding the kids!

    Merry Eisner Heidorn (formerly anonymous)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Merry,

      That "task force" already met. In secret. No agenda. No minutes. No public notice.

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    2. What a crock - blame the lack of rules and the absence of a task force for not constraining his profligate ways. He belongs in Congress.

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  18. Now that the MCEA and SEIU have withdrawn their endorsements of Barclay, perhaps the voters will also want to recall him from his BOE seat?

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    Replies
    1. (g) Removal. --

      (1) The Montgomery County Council may remove a member of the county board for:

      (i) Immorality;

      (ii) Misconduct in office;

      (iii) Incompetency; or

      (iv) Willful neglect of duty.

      (2) Before removing a member, the County Council shall provide the member a copy of the charges against him and give him an opportunity within 10 days to request a hearing.

      (3) If the member requests a hearing within the 10-day period:

      (i) The County Council promptly shall hold a hearing, but a hearing may not be set within 10 days after the County Council sends the member a notice of the hearing; and

      (ii) The member shall have an opportunity to be heard publicly before the County Council in the member's own defense, in person or by counsel.

      (4) A member removed under this subsection has the right to a de novo review of the removal by the Circuit Court for Montgomery County.

      Delete

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