Wellington Council Sets Policy On What Can Be Purchased

Members of the Wellington Village Council voted Tuesday to enact a public purpose expenditure policy governing what items Wellington staff can purchase using village funds.

After Wellington was criticized last year for the use of its purchasing cards to buy food, gifts and other items, council members put a moratorium on spending for those items until staff could work out a plan that would enforce spending only on necessary items.

The proposed policy would allow spending on meals and refreshments for certain events, or under certain circumstances with approval by the village manager.

“You’d be approving this to satisfy the recommendation from the Office of the Inspector General,” Director of Internal Audit and Compliance James Poag told council members.

According to the staff report, the policy would allow staff to spend money and be reimbursed for meals during a workshop or conference, if a business-related meeting or activity extends through a meal, for refreshments at official village meetings open to the public, during official staff retreats, at “recognition events” for retirement or other milestones, or during village-sponsored conferences or meetings.

The policy bans spending on entertainment and alcoholic beverages; meals for regular, recurring staff meetings; gift purchases other than greeting cards; office parties or holiday celebrations; and political events, contributions and donations.

“We’re here to clarify what we think is and is not acceptable,” Councilwoman Anne Gerwig said. “This is really spelling out in detail what would dictate a public purpose.”

To be reimbursed, the employee would have to have certification from his department head, explain what the public purpose of the purchase was, list attendees to the event along with the date, time and location, provide an itemized receipt and provide evidence of written approval if necessary.

Councilman Matt Willhite suggested adding the funds to each budget’s department, but Poag said the money is already there.

“This is just defining what a public purpose is,” he said. “We have to have a way to track these expenses.”

Willhite suggested removing the expected dollar amounts from the policy. “I don’t know why there needs to be a dollar amount associated with it,” he said. “It looks like we’re saying this is what we’re going to spend.”

Village Manager Paul Schofield said the council didn’t have to approve a dollar amount or even a department for the spending.

“You’re just approving a general policy,” he said. “That is mostly informational. You can approve the policy without approving expenditures for any specific department or person. Then the expenditures would go to accounting and Mr. Poag’s office as well to make sure they meet our policies. They will have those checks regardless.”

Mayor Bob Margolis said he was in support of the policy. “The inspector general said we couldn’t [make the purchases] because we didn’t have a policy to allow it,” he said. “This is what we’re doing now, developing a policy.”

But Willhite said he didn’t want unnecessary spending, noting that one item went from having $26 spent on it to a budget of $1,000.

“We went from zero tolerance to opening the floodgates,” he said. “It’s allowed in their budget, but I have a concern when we have certain areas that show higher numbers than others.”

Councilman John Greene said he thought the council should approve the policy without assigning funds to any department. “It’s already in their budget,” he said.

Poag said that was basically what the council was considering. “There is no seeking any dollar amounts or funding,” he said.

Greene made a motion to approve the policy, which passed unanimously. “What’s important is we finally have a policy in place that is in compliance with the recommendation of the inspector general,” he said.