Editorial: Flawed policy quickly fixed

This week, City Manager Allan Roeder closed a loophole in Costa Mesa policy that allowed lower-ranking managers to approve their immediate supervisors' expense reports. He made the right decision.

Because of Roeder, who is retiring later this year, only the city manager will have the authority to approve expense reports for department leaders.

Though he did not cite a direct cause and effect, Roeder said that he intended to change the policy after reading a pertinent Jan. 4 piece by Pilot columnist William Lobdell. The column, citing city documents and gasoline receipts, revealed that Police Chief Christopher Shawkey used his city-issued credit card to buy gasoline while out of town. From December 2008 to October 2010, Shawkey put in reimbursement claims on 163 gas receipts totaling $4,827.

While the expenses were listed as "for official business only," it remains unclear whether the vouchers were work related. We'd like to know. And, because the money once belonged to them, the taxpayers have a right to know.

In November, Roeder placed the chief on leave along with Capt. Ron Smith, the department's No. 2 cop. Smith's signature appeared on photocopies of the city reimbursement forms, which Shawkey signed off as work related.

Now, we can't be certain that Shawkey and Smith were put on leave because the captain had OKd his boss's expense claims. And it's also unknown whether the chief's out-of-town gas payments — which frequently ranged as far away from his jurisdiction as Arizona, Utah and Wyoming — were done for legitimate business paid for by Costa Mesa taxpayers.

Capt. Les Gogerty, the acting police chief, told Pilot reporter Joseph Serna that he wasn't aware of officers having to visit any those distant points for official business.

Roeder, citing personnel confidentiality, has steadfastly declined to comment on why he sidelined the department's No. 1 and No. 2 managers. Shawkey and Smith have declined interview requests, and Smith has announced plans to retire after he works out a pension agreement.

We question how this flawed policy was allowed to be instituted in the first place. Lower-ranking managers should not be empowered to greenlight expense reports filed by their immediate supervisors — how could they say "no" to the boss?

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