Archive for Wednesday, August 29, 2001

Attorney, commission reach compromise

August 29, 2001

Jefferson County commissioners and Jim Vanderbilt on Monday afternoon agreed to disagree on the issue of the county's credit card.

Earlier this month, the commissioners revoked Vanderbilt's county credit card after he failed to present receipts along with a credit card bill. The total of the bill came to about $4,000, Vanderbilt said.

Prior to meeting on Monday with the commissioners, Vanderbilt had told a reporter:

"We're going to come to an agreement before I'm going to send an envelope down there for reimbursements."

George Matthews, head commissioner, said Monday that the county requires that receipts be submitted with credit card bills.

"Mr. Vanderbilt chose not to give us the receipts that were required," Matthews said. "We sent notices to him on a number of occasions. He didn't seem to be able to get the receipts to us and so we revoked the credit card in accordance with the requirements that were in place when we issued them."

Vanderbilt, who has worked in the county attorney's office for seven years and served as the county attorney for 4.5 years, said there's a long explanation as to why he has not submitted his credit card receipts.

"The bottom line is that the county attorney doesn't have to follow the rules in the county handbooks," Vanderbilt said. "We have our own handbooks, our own internal policies."

The charged items on the $4,000 credit card bill, Vanderbilt said, were incurred in June when he attended a two-week career prosecutor course in South Carolina sponsored by the National College of District Attorneys.

"I used the county credit card for most of the expenses," Vanderbilt said. "The plane fare, two weeks in a motel, two weeks of meals and the car."

The problem isn't the total cost, Vanderbilt maintains, rather, it's partly from the tips that he added to the cost of meals and charged to the credit card. He says the commissioners don't consider tips to be a part of a meal. And the county pays a limited amount on the price of meals.

But in Vanderbilt's view, tips paid to waitresses in restaurants are a part of the cost of eating out.

When Vanderbilt sent his voucher with the credit card bill to the commissioners, the receipts were inadvertently not included, he said.

"The county clerk brought the voucher back up to me with an envelope for me to reimburse the tips and any meals in excess of the allowed amount," Vanderbilt said. "She told me that because I was using the county credit card I had to follow the county handbook rules."

Matthews is aware that Vanderbilt has said he needn't follow the county's handbook.

"Mr. Vanderbilt pointed out that the attorney general has indicated that the county attorneys don't need to follow the requirements that are in place about the use of credit cards," Matthews said.

Vanderbilt explained why.

"The county attorney is an elected official and as prosecutor is isolated from external pressures to do his job," Vanderbilt said.

It's unlikely the credit card problem will crop up again, both Matthews and Vanderbilt said.

"The credit card has been revoked so we won't have that problem again," Matthews said.

Vanderbilt said by the time he received a letter from the commissioners telling him his credit card had been revoked, he had decided he wouldn't use it anymore.

Part of the problem, Vanderbilt contends, has been a lack of communication.

There also have been concern about Vanderbilt's celluar phone bill.

In the last few months, his cell phone bills have been running from $600 to $700, Matthews said.

"We think that you can get a cell phone for $150 a month which we think should provide as many minutes as we need," Matthews said. "I don't think he's being very frugal with his cell phone."

This time, Vanderbilt agreed with the commissioners.

Vanderbilt said he plans to reinstate the less expensive cell phone service he had before.

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