Compton Audit: Dubious city-issued credit card users identified
The mayor, and City Council, along with a succession of city managers, have mismanaged hundreds of thousands of dollars
MasterCard credit card purchase. Informedmag.com
State controller names staff behind questionable city-issued credit card, travel expenditures, skirting petty cash policy
The City of Compton’s reckless disregard for accounting controls in budget expenditures and adherence to protocols in city contracting, are two of the reasons the city could face a probe by the Los Angeles District Attorney.
The mayor, and City Council for the current administration, along with a succession of city managers for the better part of two decades, have mismanaged hundreds of thousands of dollars, while critical needs like the city’s streets have lingered unfixed.
To now, the incriminating information lacking in these reviews of the California State Controller’s audit has been which specific individuals were responsible for excessive expenditures using city-issued credit cards minus any substantiation, receipts or documentation that the charges were for city business.
Excessive, undocumented travel
The state controller released names to the Compton Herald for five questionable travel expenditures totaling $24,404, between Feb. 10, 2015, and June 11, 2016. The sum accounted for approximately 47 percent of the total charges. As with most of the excessive charges to the city-issued credit cards, as determined by the state controller, the reason for the travel expenses was unclear, excessive or not properly documented.
- On Feb. 10, 2015, $1,193 was charged for airfare to Washington, D.C.; the purpose of the charge was missing and unsupported. The individual named in the state audit authorizing the expenditure was former City Manager G. Harold Duffey, who was let go for “no cause” by the city in Sept. 2014. Per the credit card statement, the plane ticket was for an individual identified as Renea Ferell. Beyond that, there was no further information on Ferell or her business with the city.
Interestingly, Duffey may have been pegged by the state controller as the person to whom the city credit card was issued, but the authorization for its use on Feb. 10, 2015, more than likely came from someone else, as Duffey had been gone from the city four months.
- On May 22, 2015, $1,028 was charged for lodging in Hartford, Conn.; the state controller could not establish whether the charge was for city business or not, and no supporting documentation was provided. The individual named in the state audit as having been issued the credit card was Johnny Ford, the current assistant city manager, who was serving as acting city manager at the time. According to the state controller’s audit, the reason for the expenditure and for whom it was made was never documented.
- On June 24, 2015, a total of $1,494 was charged for round-trip airfare to Miami, Fla, and an unknown period of lodging there. The credit card was issued to Acting City Manager Johnny Ford. The expenditure was for Compton Successor Agency Director Kofi Sefa-Boayke with no record of justification for the trip or supporting documentation.
- On Dec. 12, 2015, $1,492 was charged for one night of lodging in New York, NY. The credit card was issued to Roger L. Haley, who was hired as the permanent replacement for Duffey. According to the state controller, the charge was “unsupported and excessive,” and it is unknown for whom the purchase was made.
Haley, the former city manager of Lynwood who was fired after seven years, was hired by the City of Compton as the permanent replacement for G. Harold Duffey, suffered a similar fate — let go with “no cause.”
- On June 11, 2016, $708 was charged for one night of lodging in Las Vegas, Nevada. The charge on the credit card issued to Haley, was deemed excessive by the state controller. There was no documentation for whom the purchase was made or whether it was for city business.
Ford also authorized credit card use for expenditures on April 29, May 30, and Dec. 3, of 2015, for $1,990, for office supplies for the city council, for which there was no receipts or documentation; $1,975 for “unknown” supplies; minus documentation; and $1,274 to an electronics store for a camera of unknown make and type. As with the other purchases, there was no record to justify if the expense was for city business.
As reported earlier by the Herald story, the state controller found evidence of city employees circumventing the petty cash reimbursement policy, which clearly outlines on the claim that petty cash may only be used for items up to $100. However, the state audit found purchases in excess of $100 that had been split into amounts less than $100, so that employees could be reimbursed from the Petty Cash Fund.
Two individuals identified by the state controller as violating the policy were Melissa Freeny, chief of staff for Mayor Aja Brown, and Debbie Curtis, executive secretary for the mayor.
Special Projects and Events expenditures by city council
Council expenses, with Councilmember Isaac Galvan having spent the most, are the following:
- Galvan’s expenditures for Fiscal Years 2015-16 and 2016-17, were $110,478 and $36,017, respectively, for a total of $146,495.
- Mayor Aja Brown’s expenditures for Fiscal Years 2015-16 and 2016-17, were $68,060 and $46,761, respectively, for a total of $114,821
- Councilmember Janna Zurita’s expenditures for Fiscal Years 2015-16 and 2016-17, were $25,354 and $32,549, respectively, for a total of $57,903.
- Councilmember Tana McCoy’s expenditures for Fiscal Years 2015-16 and 2016-17, were $2,776 and $42,852 , respectively, for a total of $45,628.
- Councilmember Emma Sharif’s expenditures for Fiscal Years 2015-16 and 2016-17, were $4,493 and $19,751, respectively, for a total of $24,244.
The total city council expenditures for Fiscal Years 2015-16 and 2016-17 amounted to $389,091, which exceeded the approved council budget of $180,000.
When monies for joint programs, citywide programs, and other expenses were added, the total swelled to $403,734 – vastly over budget by $223,734, nearly a quarter million dollars.
Lack of consistent leadership
During our review of, we noted that the city experienced a high degree of management turnover, which can result in a lack of consistent leadership, lack of operational stability, and inefficient provision of services to its citizens. Between Jan. 1, 2010, and Jan. 18, 2017, the City of Compton has had 10 different city managers – a drastic turnover rate for the city’s top financial officer.
Those serving in that position for the city since 2010 have been Barbara Kilroy, Charles Evans, Willie Norfleet, Bryan Patist, Lamont Euell, G. Harold Duffey, Johnny Ford, Roger Haley, Ray Groomes, and currently Cecil W. Rhambo.
It is no small wonder the city cannot generate any positive fiscal momentum with such a “chopping block policy.”
According to the state audit, the city also did not have a permanent Controller for the nine months before it filled the position on March 20, 2017.
The high turnover has contributed to a lack of leadership and, in some cases, a lack of management oversight.
The city plans to fill some vacant management positions, notes the state controller, however, the position of the city’s Human Resources Director — the recruiter — has been vacant for more than three years, significantly delaying the hiring process for critical positions within several city departments.