After learning of Lafayette Consolidated Government’s policy of issuing credit cards to City-Parish Council members who request them — and giving each council member the autonomy to decide what travel expenses are appropriate to bill LCG for — The Independent Weekly checked in with three other cities to find out how LCG’s credit card and travel policies compares with others around the state.
Two we checked on don’t issue cards to council members, and a third does — though it has a policy for ensuring the card was used for city business only, something lacking in Lafayette.
This web-exclusive comparison coincides with The Independent Weekly’s news story on City-Parish Councilman Brandon Shelvin, who used his LCG-issued credit card to fund a three-night stay in New Orleans the weekend of last year’s Bayou Classic and stated in his expense report that the only reason for his trip was an hour-and-a-half scholarship brunch sponsored by the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus. Read more on Shelvin’s Big Easy trip here.
According to the Lake Charles City Council clerk, council members are not allowed to hold their own government-issued credit cards. When travel expenses are requested for government-approved conferences, the council clerk books hotel rooms, flights and conference registration in advance of the scheduled trip and charges the expenses to a credit card used only by the council office. Council members in Lake Charles are sometimes reimbursed for other out-of-town ventures, such as traveling to a neighboring city to examine an asset Lake Charles might need, but when asked if the policy allows for council members to charge the city for a weekend in New Orleans for one brunch event, the council clerk promptly said, “Oh, no.”
Council members in Alexandria are given credit cards to use for city-related travel, according to the Alexandria City Council clerk’s office. But unlike the Lafayette City-Parish Council, the Alexandria City Council president reviews the charges and can decide if the travel expenses were inappropriate. If it is determined the purpose of the trip or the expenses incurred were not allowed, the council member must reimburse the city.
LCG can ask a council member to reimburse the city for expenses that do not follow travel policy, but, surprisingly, no one in the city administration or on the City-Parish Council can deny travel expenses based on the purpose of the trip. Each council member has an annual $4,000 travel budget, and he or she decides what’s appropriate travel. Shelvin, apparently, thought it was perfectly acceptable to turn what should have been a day trip to New Orleans into a three-night stay. He did not reimburse LCG for any of the weekend’s expenses, and no one is saying whether he was ever asked to do so.
Shreveport, like Lake Charles, does not allow its council members to have city-issued credit cards. When conferences or other travel is called for, the council office typically arranges some of the accommodations ahead of time, but council members must pay for the bulk of their travel expenses and seek reimbursement after their return.