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Las Cruces manager reimburses city for travel costs
Las Cruces City Manager Terrence Moore reimbursed the city for some costs associated with two business trips he took last year — after a complaint was filed over one trip and an attorney requested documentation about the other.
Moore says the timing of the city Hotline Review Committee’s investigation into a November trip to Chicago and a records request from a Las Cruces attorney about a September trip to Santa Fe are coincidental and had nothing to do with the decisions to reimburse the city for some of the costs of both trips.
Although the Hotline Review Committee’s work relates to personnel matters and is exempt from release under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act, Moore gave the city clerk permission to release the committee’s report and related records in response to a records request from the New Mexico Independent.
“I have nothing to hide,” Moore said about releasing the documents.
The hotline committee – which is composed of three top city administrators appointed to the board by Moore – made clear its opinion that Moore’s trip to Chicago was inconsistent with the city managers’ direction to city staff to be frugal about travel. The committee also found that Moore hadn’t provided some required documentation related to the trip.
Moore flew to Chicago – his hometown – on Nov. 18. The trip was approved by Mayor Ken Miyagishima, who has to sign off on all of Moore’s business travel. On the evening of Nov. 19, Moore spoke at the University of Illinois, discussing his 2008 participation in the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference – a program sponsored by the secretary of defense that, according to its Web site, is designed for “public opinion leaders interested in growing their knowledge of the military and national defense issues.”
On the same day, Moore spoke to a university class about his experiences as a city manager. He didn’t notify the city of any scheduled business other than those two events, though he didn’t fly home until three days later – on Sunday, Nov. 22.
Anonymous caller sparks review
On Dec. 4, an anonymous caller complained to the city’s fraud, waste and abuse hotline. That sparked the review in which the hotline committee identified three problems:
• The city requires documentation of the purpose of a business trip, which Moore did not provide.
• Moore combined a vacation with a business trip – which city policy allows – but he did not schedule annual leave for any of the time he was gone and didn’t provide a breakdown of city and personal expenses, which was required.
• Moore didn’t provide the required justification for the rental car he used while in Chicago.
The hotline committee’s report includes strong statements about the trip:
“The City paid $751.57 for Mr. Moore to present his experience with the Joint Civilian Orientation Conference he attended in September 2008, from 4 to 6pm on November 19 in his hometown,” the report states, adding that, because of budget constraints and Moore’s direction to city staff to eliminate all travel except that necessary for required continuing education of professional, certified staff, “this is clearly an inconsistency.”
“It is vital to the tone of the organization that Mr. Moore strictly adhere to policy and make fiscally responsible decisions consistent with expectations and direction to all City staff,” states the memo from the committee, which is made up of the assistant city manager, city attorney and the city’s internal audit manager.
The same day the committee issued those findings in its report to Miyagishima, the mayor met with Moore. Following that meeting, Moore reimbursed the city for $483.87 – all the costs of the trip except the $267.70 for airfare – and two annual leave days (for Nov. 18 and 20) were deducted from his account.
Moore, Miyagishima not sure reimbursement was necessary
But Moore and Miyagishima both say now they’re not sure that was a fair resolution. A section in Moore’s employment contract, they say, appears to allow travel for funding for events like those Moore attended in Chicago.
They’re referring to part of section eight of the contract, which states that the city “shall budget and pay for” official travel, meetings, “and occasions to adequately continue the professional development” of Moore, and for “short courses, institutes, and seminars that are necessary for the Employee’s professional development and for the good of the Employer.”
“Basically he’s allowed to just do a lot of things and the city should just reimburse him,” Miyagishima said in an interview.
“That was one of those bills in which, based on my contract, I have those abilities,” Moore said in an interview. “The bottom line, I’ve taken care of all of this… I think that was an admirable thing to do. Is it necessarily fair? No.”
Moore also said he didn’t request vacation time because he considered the day he was speaking to be a work day, in addition to the two days he traveled – on a Wednesday and a Sunday. Because one travel day was on the weekend, Moore said, he thought he could take Friday off without using leave time.
A Dec. 28 memo from Miyagishima to Councilor Dolores Connor tells the final piece of the story: Miyagishima wrote that, in retrospect, “the City of Las Cruces may have overstepped its boundaries by asking Mr. Moore for reimbursement.”
“In discussing this with Mr. Moore, he prefers to leave things as is and just move forward,” the memo states. “I, too, feel this is the best option.”
The Santa Fe trip
In the case of the trip to Santa Fe, on Aug. 25 Moore’s assistant reserved a room at the Eldorado Hotel for the nights of Sept. 25 and 26 – at a base cost of $299 per night. Moore signed a travel request form on Aug. 27, and Miyagishima approved it.
That travel request states that the trip was for “Misc. meetings (Lawrence Horan-CLC Lobbyist) (Joe Thompson-Animal Protection Voters) (NM City Management Assn.).”
Moore stayed both nights at the Eldorado Hotel. On Sept. 29 his assistant, Barbi Nevarez, sent a required memo to the city’s disbursements supervisor with Moore’s hotel receipt for both nights attached.
Days later, on Oct. 5, Las Cruces attorney Joseph Holmes filed a records request for a number of documents, including “travel and expense reports for Mr. Moore and his guests” for the trip to Santa Fe. Holmes has not returned a call seeking information about why he filed the request, but city records indicate he was provided with the documents.
Then, on Oct. 8, Nevarez filed a revised memo with the disbursements supervisor that included a new statement:
“Not knowing what time the meetings would end on September 26, 2009, the hotel had an open reservation. The meetings finished at 4 p.m. He decided to stay overnight instead of driving home at night. He will reimburse the city for the extra night.”
Moore said in the interview that he always planned to stay in Santa Fe two nights, but he didn’t know whether he or the city would pay for the second night. The formal meetings involving the New Mexico City Management Association took place Friday, he said, and Saturday was a day of related “informal” meetings.
He said the later decision to reimburse the city for the second night – after initially submitting the receipt for the cost of both nights to the city – was “just part of the reimbursement process.”
“When we get back we submit everything to finance… We would then go over… OK, when was the work finished?” Moore said.
Moore said he realized during that review that, because meetings he had scheduled for later on Saturday were cancelled, his work was done in time that the city should not have paid for the hotel on the night of Sept. 26. That, he claimed, led to the revised memo on Oct. 8.
“Ethically, I was not at liberty to charge the city that second night, and that’s why I took care of it,” Moore said.
Mayor: Moore ‘never showed any irresponsible spending’
Miyagishima, who signs off on all of the city manager’s travel in advance, said he wasn’t too familiar with the details of the Santa Fe trip, but did know that Moore had reimbursed the city for one night.
Miyagishima said in his experience traveling on city business with Moore, the city manager has “never showed any irresponsible spending,” so he’s trusted that when Moore presents him with a travel request it’s legit.
“Maybe I should, but I don’t scrutinize it a lot,” the mayor said.
Miyagishima said he has become more intentional about asking Moore to not nickel-and-dime the city on travel reimbursements recently.
As to why the reservation was made at the Eldorado – one of the most expensive hotels in Santa Fe – Moore said it was “the only spot available at the time” because there was a wine festival in Santa Fe.
“I picked a bad weekend perhaps in that regard, but nevertheless my efforts were successful,” Moore said, specifically mentioning a newspaper article that ran in November about Moore’s reaching out to Animal Protection Voters during that September trip for help in improving the city/county animal shelter.