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Auditor Looks at Fresno's Credit Card Bills. Who Were the Biggest Spenders?
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By Edward Smith
Published 3 weeks ago on
May 10, 2024

Fresno City Councilmember Garry Bredefeld initiated an audit of city credit card spending. (GV Wire Composite/Paul Marshall)

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Two years after an argument over credit card spending sparked accusations of harassment and abuse among Fresno City Councilmembers, an audit of the city’s discretionary spending has been released.

Auditors examined credit card spending and reimbursements from 2017 to 2022. They found 18% of transactions and 16% of the amount spent during that time period were not in compliance with the city’s own rules. Of the $5.7 million spent on credit cards over the five-year period, $917,815 was not properly accounted for.

The shortfalls noted by the audit come from a time when only a few city staff members had credit cards, said councilmembers Mike Karbassi and Miguel Arias. Changes in reporting requirements account for some of the discrepancies in what was properly reported. For that, the city is looking to update its rules about credit card spending.

The Fresno City Council Financial and Audit Subcommittee will review the audit and discuss rules governing credit card spending Monday.

“The last time (the rules) were revised was July 23, 2015. Councilmembers didn’t even have credit cards back then, and it’s pretty clear it needs to be revised,” Karbassi said Friday.

Bredefeld’s Credit Card Spending Far Below Others

In 2022, Councilmember Garry Bredefeld released to the media scores of pages of spending from his council colleagues, calling into question many transactions such as bicycle purchases, an ugly sweater, and expensive meal purchases.

Bredefeld had not seen the audit by Friday afternoon and did not want to comment without seeing it first.

The audit broke down spending into general use or meals and was not limited to city council districts. The Fresno Police Department’s training division had the highest amount of credit card spending with $702,874. The police’s Administrative Support Division was next with $391,782.

From 2017 to 2022, credit card spending totaled $4 million. Of the council districts, council District 1 had the most with 880 transactions totaling $124,235. Esmeralda Soria, now a California Assemblymember, was that district’s councilmember from 2015 to 2022.

This table shows all credit card spending by department and division. (City of Fresno)

Council District 3 followed closely with $121,247 in expeditures. Councilmember Miguel Arias has represented the district since 2019.

Bredefeld had the fewest transactions by far, with 25 transactions totaling $4,682.

Of spending without supporting documentation, the top three divisions were the Fresno Police Department’s training department, the city’s Parking Division, and the Fresno City Attorney’s Office.

Karbassi said he is alarmed about the spending without any documentation.

Arias’ District 3 had the most undocumented spending among council districts with 20 transactions totaling $1,036 over the five-year period.

For meals, the city attorney’s office and Karbassi’s District 2 had the most transactions without a description of business purpose.

The city attorney’s office had 180 transactions totaling $18,941 in charges. City Attorney Andrew Janz took the role in December 2022 following Doug Sloan. Karbassi was elected in 2019 after Steve Brandau was elected to the Board of Supervisors.

Karbassi said the city lumps together meal spending without any description and spending with the “general purpose” designation. He said there are times when he pays for food for staff meetings but doesn’t want to disclose exactly what item is being discussed.

This table shows credit card spending that auditors say lacked documentation. (City of Fresno)

Audit Time Period Took Place as Rules Changed: Arias

The audit did not find any misuse of public funds, Arias said.

As for spending with insufficient documentation, Arias said the city changed financial systems during the time period the audit analyzed. He said he has documentation for every purchase made.

Calls or emails to Fresno City Councilmembers Nelson Esparza, Tyler Maxwell and Annalisa Perea as well as to city administration went unanswered.

With that change in the operating system came a change in reporting rules.

“Where’s there’s no documents, that’s not inaccurate,” Arias said. “Those charges took place when the old system was being used.”

Arias said he wrote reimbursement checks to Bank of America whereas under the new system, councilmembers are required to write checks to the city of Fresno.

On meal spending, Arias said it’s not always possible to provide the documentation required by the auditing company, such as for when councilmembers are being deposed and are not permitted to say who is present.

Arias said the reason spending is so high for his district is that being council president requires a lot of food spending for budget committees. He has also held more than 300 community meetings for which he buys water, burritos, and pizza for attendees.

The auditing company recommended a revision of the spending rules.

“Based on this audit, we went five years and there’s not one instance in which I observed that was egregious or inappropriate,” Arias said.

Bredefeld, Karbassi Offered to Foot Bill for Audit. City Picked Up the Tab

After the hour-long, vitriolic discussion among councilmembers in March 2022, council members indicated that Bredefeld would have to pay for the audit out of his district funds. Bredefeld objected, saying it should come out of every district’s fund. Karbassi volunteered to help Bredefeld.

In the end, the audit cost $70,000, according to Karbassi. The money came out of the city’s general fund.

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Edward Smith,
Multimedia Journalist
Edward Smith began reporting for GV Wire in May 2023. His reporting career began at Fresno City College, graduating with an associate degree in journalism. After leaving school he spent the next six years with The Business Journal, doing research for the publication as well as covering the restaurant industry. Soon after, he took on real estate and agriculture beats, winning multiple awards at the local, state and national level. You can contact Edward at 559-440-8372 or at Edward.Smith@gvwire.com.

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