Pinellas Park Council Member, Mayor Charge Personal Expenses to City-Issued Credit Cards
By ANNE LINDBERG, TB Reporter
A city administrative policy limits use of the city credit card to “goods or services necessary for the operation of city of Pinellas Park business.” City staff said the rule does not apply to the mayor and council members.
PINELLAS PARK – Over the past two years, Pinellas Park council member Rick Butler has charged thousands in personal expenses to his city-issued credit card.
Among personal charges Butler has made to his city-issued credit card are to Home Depot, Pet Supplies Plus, Brighthouse, restaurants, and gas stations. At times, the total has added up to more than $3,000 in a month. Butler pays off the amount to the city each month.
Butler isn’t the only council member who uses his city-issued credit card for personal use. Mayor Sandy Bradbury has also used her card for personal expenses.
There’s nothing wrong with that, according to Butler. When council members were handed the cards, he said, they were told they could use them for personal charges as long as the card was fully paid off at the end of each month.
“They said to us, ‘Here’s the credit card, make sure there’s a zero balance at the end of the month,’” Butler said. Those were the “rules of engagement.”
Butler added, “These credit cards never carry a balance with me. … There’s no balance carried. I just speak for myself. No balance.”
Bradbury conceded that she has, at times, carried a balance.
Butler and Bradbury made their comments during a Feb. 10 candidates forum at Mainlands Unit 2.
One of the hot campaign issues has been special treatment Pinellas Park staff gives to elected officials. Saxer has slammed Bradbury for failing to pay her water bills on time, stemming back to at least 2012. Yet, despite accumulated bills and late fees that, at one point, totaled more than $800, Bradbury’s water was never cut off. (Bradbury paid off the water bill last year after Saxer requested the records.)
Saxer has also knocked Bradbury for using her city-issued credit card for personal charges, an issue that arose at the Feb. 10 forum when Pinellas Park resident Dave Bench asked Bradbury why it was necessary for public officials to use a city credit card for personal expenses.
“This shouldn’t be allowed,” Bench said. “That credit card is supposed to be for city business only.”
Bradbury said the card is used for travel and that she does occasionally use it for personal expenses when her husband travels with her. She told Bench she would talk to him after the meeting and accused him of “badgering her” when he persisted in asking who had said it was okay to use a city credit card for personal expenses.
Butler, who was in the audience, came to the podium and said, “I’ll give you your answer.”
Butler explained that council members were issued the card “15 or 18 years ago” because it was “embarrassing” to go somewhere and “tap out your credit card” then have to call the city manager to use a city credit card to pay for expenses, such as parking fees.
“I think it’s a great tool for us to have,” Butler said. He added that, if there was something wrong with using a city-issued card for personal expenses, the auditors would have caught it and said something.
But Butler is not using the credit card to pay only for personal expenses related to his job as a council member. He is using it for what appear to be living and business expenses.
Copies of the Bank of America credit card statement for Butler’s city-issued card for the years 2016 to 2018 show that he regularly charges more than $1,000 in a month to the card. In some months, that amount exceeds $3,000.
Some charges are city related. Some are not. Among those – Walgreens, Pet Supplies Plus, Sirius, Publix, 7-Eleven, Bill Jackson, Veterinary Emergency Care, and Duke Energy. Other non-city charges include Home Depot, Lowes, Ed Larivee Paints, and Loopnet, a listing site for commercial real estate professionals. Butler is a licensed real estate broker.
Butler has paid off the full amount of the personal charges each month with a check drawn on his business account – “Richard Butler Licensed Real Estate Broker.”
There is a city administrative rule that says city credit cards should be used only “to obtain goods or services necessary for the operation of city of Pinellas Park business in accordance with all city purchasing policies.” The policy statement attached to the rule says in part that the card is to “be used by city staff for authorized valid city business purposes only. Use of the city credit card will be on an as-authorized-prior-to-expenditure basis.”
But city officials said that applies only to the “city credit card” not to the city credit cards issued to the council.
In response to a public records request by the Tampa Bay Reporter for a copy of a written policy exempting council members from the rule or a written policy covering council use of credit cards, the clerk’s office said there is none.
The decision to exempt council members from the rule was “verbal.”
Photo shows Pinellas Park Mayor Sandy Bradbury, left, and Council Member Rick Butler.
Pinellas Park | Sandy Bradbury | Rick Butler | Donna Saxer | Credit Card | City Credit Card | Tampabay News
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