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Cleveland Councilman Ken Johnson continues seeking tax dollars for unitemized expenses, and City Council continues to pay him the maximum

January 2, 2019

Cleveland Councilman Ken Johnson continues seeking tax dollars for unitemized expenses, and City Council continues to pay him the maximum

CLEVELAND, Ohio – City Council has again paid Councilman Ken Johnson the maximum monthly reimbursement of $1,200, this time including nearly $400 for more than 700 miles he said he drove for ward business in November.

And as has been the case every month for at least the past 11 years, council staff made the reimbursement payment without requiring Johnson to provide a detailed accounting of the expenses or their benefit to taxpayers.

In his latest expense report, submitted to council on Dec. 4 , Johnson said he drove 717 miles. His only documentation is a council mileage reimbursement form that asks for his car’s odometer readings. (You can see the form in the box below.)

Most private sector employers require employees seeking reimbursement for car use to detail the mileage for each work-related trip taken in a given month and the purpose of the trip.

City Council staffers did not ask Johnson for any details, such as where he drove and when, even though Johnson’s recent expense reports have drawn scrutiny from Council President Kevin Kelley. In November, Kelley announced he planned to hire an accounting firm to examine Johnson’s expense reports and those of other council members and to evaluate council’s protocols for reviewing and approving reimbursement requests.

Kelley did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment about Johnson’s latest expense report. Johnson, whose ward is about 2.5 miles across at its widest point, also did not respond to questions about his mileage and other expenses.

Johnson’s December report also shows that he continued to seek reimbursement for hundreds of dollars for gas he said he bought for lawnmowers and other equipment used to cut lawns for senior citizen residents of his ward and to clear debris from vacant lots. He submitted receipts for gas purchases made between Oct. 11 and Nov. 28 totaling $414.

Johnson didn’t provide a list of lots that were mowed or cleared. And he provided no timesheets identifying the people who supposedly did the work or the hours they worked. His only documentation were gas receipts. Last month, Johnson received $236 worth of reimbursements for gas purchases he said he made to cut lawns. He also did not provide any paperwork to support the expense.

In his December report, Johnson also submitted receipts for phone and internet services related to his ward office at the Kenneth L. Johnson Recreation Center and for a $200 Christmas tree he said he bought for Cleveland’s Charles Dickens Elementary School.

Johnson only recently began seeking reimbursement for gas and ward office expenses. He did so after Kelley stopped him from claiming $1,200 a month in reimbursements for undefined “ward services.” For at least 11 years, Johnson never provided an itemized accounting of the expenses. Johnson only reported paying a man he identified as Robert Fitzpatrick for the work.

A review of expense-related documents by cleveland.com found that timesheets signed by Fitzpatrick stated that he performed unspecified ward services for 20 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, for more than 11 years. Cleveland.com also disclosed that Fitzpatrick works fulltime for the city’s Recreation Department and once lived in Johnson’s home.

The city’s Law Department later determined that Johnson’s payments to Fitzpatrick ran counter to a 1991 informal opinion by the Ohio Ethics Commission that says a public employee can’t typically receive a second paycheck from the same public employer.

Decexpenses (PDF) Decexpenses (Text)