Charleston City Council says they still have unanswered questions on Mayor’s spending audit

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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD)- At an audit committee meeting late Monday afternoon, city council decided to defer the acceptance of a final report on the spending practices of Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg.

This decision was made after several council members say they still have some unanswered questions about the audit.

The lengthy, three-month internal audit of Mayor John Tecklenburg’s spending was requested in May by city council after he was accused of misusing city funds to add his wife’s name to business cards. An internal auditor examined expenses from the Mayor’s office from 2016 to the present date.

“We had a lot of questions. I think the mayor admitted that he probably made some mistakes,” City Council Member, Bill Moody, said.

Last month, the internal auditor’s report revealed several instances of Mayor John Tecklenburg spending city funds on things that held no public purpose. The audit found, among other things, questionable purchases for non-city travel, businesses card’s for non-city personnel, and policy violations with the use of p cards by employees.

The report also revealed that $83,000 dollars was spent on a legal advisor for the mayor. This expenditure has several members of council in an uproar and requesting more information.

“There is one issue that we would like some clarification on. It has to do with a contract. There was $83,000 dollars that was spent for an attorney. We had invoices, but we didn’t see the contract, what he had signed, or the scope of his work. Nor did we see any work product that he may have produced as a result of all of those hours”, Moody said.

Mayor John Tecklenburg says that the city’s legal department is responsible for the use of city funds on the legal advisor in question, not the mayor’s office.

“He’s an attorney, so our legal department really has the right to hire attorneys. When I first got elected we hired him to be a legal adviser and part of the leadership team for my administration,” Mayor Tecklenburg said.

On the contrary, several city council members say that the mayor is responsible for the large amount of taxpayer money spent on the legal advisor.

“He (the legal advisor) was in the legal department, which has a whole different procurement policy. They can hire people without going through the normal procurement policy… He was an advisor to the mayor, his compensation and everything should have been in the Mayor’s office, and yet it was moved over to the legal department,” Moody said.

The Audit Committee brought in an Independent Audit Attorney, Michael Burchstead, Former General Counsel for S.C. Ethics Commission, to oversee any legal implications of the Mayor’s spending.

He says, “I found no self-dealing by the mayor or any actions or conduct showing the Mayor or Mrs. Tecklenburg have personally financially benefited from their actions. No action of Mayor Tecklenburg or his family appears to be borne out of desire to use the office of the mayor for financial gain, but rather hey appear to be motivated by their interest in representing the citizens of the city.”

Mayor Tecklenburg’s office previously spoke out about the audit saying, “Policy disagreements are not ethical issues. Under Charleston’s strong mayor” form of government, the mayor has broad latitude to make management decisions regarding city policies and procedures, including those related to personnel, contracting, and what information is printed on his business cards. Disagreements resulting from those decisions are not ethical issues.”

City council voted to delay acceptance of the final audit report until Tuesday’s council meeting.

They are hoping that the legal office will produce additional information about expenditures still in question, specifically the money spent on the contract for the legal advisor to the mayor.

The independent audit attorney, Michael Burchstead, has suggested that the next step might be to file a complaint with the State Ethics Board, if council members thinks that is appropriate.

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