Updated: 9:08 a.m. Tuesday, July 28, 2009 | Posted: 10:33 a.m. Thursday, July 23, 2009
OAKLAND, Calif. —
One expert told KTVU that the system's tracking of those expenses is the equivalent of throwing receipts in a cigar box.
BART management does not keep an electronic tracking system of its travel or dining and drinking expenses, instead still keeping often incomplete paper receipts in cardboard boxes stored in a government warehouse.
Last January KTVU Channel 2 News, using the California Public Records Act, requested the expense records, which the law states should be made available no later than in 10 days. In June, BART provided more than a dozen large cardboard boxes of paper records, which a KTVU news team spent three weeks examining in detail.
Some of the key findings include:
A $2,700 tab at Gallagher’s Steak House on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, one of the most expensive steakhouses in the nation. The meal was for 10 BART managers – at $270 a meal – and had no itemized receipt, a violation of BART’s official policy.
A $751.40 bill for some BART employees, directors – and director’s wives – at a Georgetown restaurant dubbed the “power spot of the year.” The Café Milano bill included wine and even cognac, again against BART’s official policy.
A $699.51 bill at the University Club, also on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. The men’s only organization is akin to San Francisco’s Pacific Union Club, except it is exclusively for invited graduates of Yale University. The meal was said to be a “thank you” to employees of the New York City subway, who gave BART managers a “tour.” Again, no itemized receipt was provided, although as with all the other expenses, BART reimbursed the tab with taxpayer and fare gate money.
There are hundreds of travel expenses that include trips to cities such as London, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, international trips BART policy officially decrees must be approved in advance by BART’s general manager.
There are hundreds of trips across the United States as well, which need a lower level of approval. Some of the dozens of cities visited include New York and Washington, Pittsburgh and Chicago, New Orleans and Seattle, Los Angeles and Omaha.
And BART managers also stay in hotels around the Bay Area. Hotels stays in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, and Santa Rosa have not been uncommon.
One BART manager rented a room at San Francisco’s Westin Hotel “for staff to change into outfits for parade” during last year’s Gay Pride celebration. Cost to the public: $295.43.
BART managers frequently eat out at public expense. Meals at Bay Area restaurants are not uncommon, such as dining at expensive restaurants as Il Fornaio in Walnut Creek at a cost of $125.57.
Various other expenses were also found in the thousands of paper receipts, expenses such as a tuxedo rental for a former executive at a cost of $109.95, a floral arrangement for $98.43, and water at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco’s Union Square for $81. The total cost for food and drink alone – not associated with any travel – for the nine years between Jan. 1, 2000 and December 31, 2008 was $35,033.90.
Travel came to $2,213,141.22 in the same period.
Robert Paaswell is a former general manager of the Chicago Transit Authority and a world-recognized expert in public transit finance. He says the industry term for keeping good electronic records of expenses is “state of good practice.”
Speaking from his office in Manhattan, Paaswell observed he “would be surprised to hear that someone is essentially keeping their records in a cigar box, which is sort of the picture."
Paaswell also noted "by law you have to have your financial records in order you have to get by an annual audit if you're going to get any federal funds."
BART’s current general manager, Dorothy Dugger, said BART is compliant with federal laws adding "I'm not going to tell you that there hasn't been a mistake made in eight years but I have a high degree in the accuracy of our accounting."
Dugger said BART keeps its expense records in cardboard boxes while it tries to muster a $40 million program to use modern spreadsheets such as Excel.
Although many – perhaps a third or more – of BART managers are represented by labor unions such as the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees, AFSCME local 3993 President Jean Hamilton conceded BART’s accounting is “a big black hole of expenditures.”
And although BART’s top management says it has no plans to reform any travel, food, drink or miscellaneous expenses, it does have a list of what it calls important improvements for BART riders it cannot afford.
Those include $1.1 million for backing up PG& E power, $1.3 million for parking garage lighting and stairs costing $1.6 million – all well below the $2.4 million spent in the period examined.