Thursday, October 18, 2018
Business

Overspending accusations spur stricter policies at Port Tampa Bay

TAMPA —Port Tampa Bay's governing board approved a new spending and expense policy Tuesday amid recent reports of excessive spending among its employees.

The revised policy, which went into effect Tuesday, forces port officials to forgo renewing golf memberships or Tampa Bay Lightning season tickets and will require detailed documentation of all business and travel-related expenses. Port employees will be required to attend a training session about the new policies and to fill out a new form to document every expense.

Staff members made it clear during a presentation to the board that alcoholic beverages paid for during any business engagement — which came under close scrutiny after a local ABC Action News investigation — will not be reimbursed for employees. However, port employees can pay for alcoholic beverages for guests who could potentially do business with the port.

In addition, the board will require all employee expenses to undergo a third-party auditing procedure by Tampa accounting firm Rivero, Gordimer & Co. every quarter and annually, for review. The port's ethics commission is also reviewing the accusations of overspending.

Several instances of overspending, which included port employees using port-paid-for golf memberships for personal use, lavish meals at expensive restaurants like Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa, and season tickets for the Tampa Bay Lightning games, have been reimbursed, said Paul Anderson, Port Tampa Bay president and CEO.

"It's our goal to be the region's economic leader. We work tirelessly to bring state, national and international companies and jobs to the Tampa Bay area," Anderson said at the meeting. "Recent questions about our expenses have prompted us to take a closer look at the controls in place. We want to infuse greater disclosure, clarity and accuracy when it comes to our expenditures. It is my responsibility to make that happen."

Previous Coverage: Mike Griffin named to Tampa Port Authority amid overspending accusations

Earlier this month, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Mike Griffin to the Tampa Port Authority. Griffin, 36, fills a vacant seat on the board, but Scott touted Griffin as a new overseer of the port's operations after the overspending accusations. Griffin is the senior managing director of Savills Studley Occupier Services in Tampa and is also the current chair of the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

"Recently, I was concerned to see media reports detailing wasteful spending by the executives at Port Tampa Bay. The actions detailed in these reports should serve as a reminder of the importance of the oversight every appointee is charged with providing. I look forward to the Tampa Port Authority governing board reviewing policies to prevent wasteful spending by employees," Scott explained in a statement when Griffin was appointed. Scott was a major supporter of Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, two statewide public agencies that marketed Florida for tourism and corporate development. Both agencies faced scrutiny from legislators this year about overspending.

Port Tampa Bay board members seemed pleased with the swift action to revise and implement new policies.

"Some things that took place were unnecessary and unreasonable, but the port's staff recognized that and have taken the aggressive steps to fix its culture," said Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandra Murman said the revised policy was among the most conservative she's seen at a public agency.

Meanwhile, Vice Chairman Carl Lindell said "We don't want to take the tools away to compete globally. This port is subject to competition. We need to assure that we're still backing them up and giving them the proper amount of dollars to make business happen."

Contact Justine Griffin at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. Follow @SunBizGriffin.

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