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November 28, 2007

Sneaky Giuliani billed obscure agencies for travel expenses

Ben Smith of the Politico has a great investigative scoop today. Smith used New York's Freedom of Information Law to obtain Rudy Giuliani's spending records as mayor.

The documents reveal that Giuliani racked up tens of thousands of dollars in security costs for personal business, and that his office billed these expenses to obscure city agencies:

The expenses first surfaced as Giuliani's two terms as mayor of New York drew to a close in 2001, when a city auditor stumbled across something unusual: $34,000 worth of travel expenses buried in the accounts of the New York City Loft Board.

When the city's fiscal monitor asked for an explanation, Giuliani's aides refused, citing "security," said Jeff Simmons, a spokesman for the city comptroller.

But American Express bills and travel documents obtained by Politico suggest another reason City Hall may have considered the documents sensitive: They detail three summers of visits to Southampton, the Long Island town where Nathan had an apartment.

Auditors "were unable to verify that these expenses were for legitimate or necessary purposes," City Comptroller William Thompson wrote of the expenses from fiscal year 2000, which covers parts of 1999 and 2000.

The letter, whose existence has not been previously reported, was also obtained under the Freedom of Information Law. [Politico]

As mayor, Giuliani was entitled to 24/7 police protection, no matter where he happened to be. So, there was nothing improper about bringing the NYPD on his weekend getaways.

Long trips and overnight stays with security do cost the city more in gas and lodging. For example, the city spent over a thousand dollars to put up for officers at the Atlantic Utopia Lifestyle Inn, according to the Politico. (You can't make this stuff up.) But that's not sinister, either. Even the mayor needs to get out sometimes. Nobody's suggesting that he should have been a prisoner in Gracie Mansion to save the city some money.

Still, Giuliani hasn't explained why he chose to bill these expenses to the New York Loft Board, Office for People With Disabilities, and the Procurement Policy Board. 

Why all the secrecy surrounding services that Rudy was entitled to anyway? The Politico's sources speculate that Giuliani's office didn't want to tarnish the boss's reputation for fiscal discipline, or let on that he was visiting his mistress on a regular basis. 

I hope that none of these agencies did without because the mayor's lifestyle was cutting into their budgets.

Here's are some municipal accounting questions: Would anyone those agencies have known that Giuliani was charging tens of thousands of dollars to their offices?  If any officials knew, did they break the rules by letting these illegitimate charges ride? If nobody noticed, it doesn't speak well of accounting standards under Giuliani.

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Comments

If you're a boss, part of your responsibility avoid conflicts of interest. Just as you're responsible for showing up on time and getting your work done, you're responsible being fair, and being seen to be fair, to everyone you supervise.

Sleeping with a subordinate almost invariably creates subordinate creates conflicts of interest. There's also the possibility for abuse of power and negative effects on the organization, but let's leave those aside for the moment. I agree that there are lots of workplace affairs that don't involve the latter two complications.

Striking up a romantic relationship with someone whose work you supervise almost always creates a conflict of interest. You can't be expected to be dispassionate about someone you're sleeping with, especially if you have other employees that don't have that special relationship with you.

Romantic and personal conflicts of interest are analogous to financial conflicts of interest. Maybe some people can operate dispassionately in financial conflict of interest without letting it bias their professional judgment. Still, it's wrong to allow oneself to end up in a financial conflict of interest situation--even if you're sure it's not affecting your judgment.

I'm not saying that the responsibility to be a good employer/employee should come before every other duty or interest in life. Depends on the job, and the competing interest. Some jobs have more real responsibility than others. Blowing off a one-week menial temp assignment is not in the same moral league as blowing off balance of a presidency. (Excuse the pun.)

>Depends on the job, and the competing interest.

Sure does. I'm very case-by-case in these matters.

--Striking up a romantic relationship with someone whose work you supervise almost always creates a conflict of interest. You can't be expected to be dispassionate about someone you're sleeping with, especially if you have other employees that don't have that special relationship with you.--

I was going to comment on this immediate subject, but you said it better. The conflicts and perceived conflicts are too many to count.

My (unscientific) take is that these relationships would more often be exploitative on the senior managers part. Years ago, it would be a running gag in some places about who was going to do the hot secretary.

And I think that among the worst offenders would be college professors/students and department heads/untenured teachers. Three was a lot of that at SUNY Binghamton when I went there. May have been an acceptable deal for the pretty girls who were selected, not so much for the females not chosen. One group got A's all the time, the other had to actually read the books and write the reports.

In a workplace, there is a way around this--one party resigns or asks to be placed in another dept. In real life though, that would be the junior person.

Some corporations, including Wal-Mart I think, go much further and ban dating between co-workers entirely, even where there is no reporting relationship. This I think is both unusual and completely unacceptable.

As an army brat I recall incidences of verboten romantic fraternization sometimes setting off pretty serious fireworks. I can’t remember it happening very often, but it seemed to get folks fairly agitated when it did. Military policy re fraternization here.

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