Montgomery Planning Chief Gives Up Government-Issued Credit Card

By Miranda S. Spivack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 8, 2009

Montgomery County planning director Rollin Stanley has surrendered his government-issued credit card, and he has paid back about $600 for meals and other expenses auditors said were wrongly charged to the county's planning agency, officials said.

An audit is also questioning $1,466 more in Stanley's expenses, but officials said this week that they expect he will be allowed to claim most of that because the expenses appear legitimate, although not fully documented. Stanley has reimbursed the agency for about $600 in personal cellphone calls.

Stanley, 51, who joined the Montgomery County planning agency 18 months ago, said he is being singled out for scrutiny and is "frustrated" by the investigation. The blunt-talking planner has been credited with reinvigorating the agency, but lawyers, staff members and others who have had conflicts with him say he is often dismissive of those who challenge him. He is paid $179,400 annually.

"If I am accountable for something, it is that I haven't been giving them [detailed] receipts, and I owe them $11 for a beer I bought for a guy who had worked for 38 years and retired," he said. He said he had never been audited to this extent in previous jobs.

"We require detailed receipts," said Patti Barney, secretary-treasurer of Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, which oversees the Montgomery and Prince George's planning and parks agencies.

Questions about Stanley's spending dating to early last year arose during an internal audit that began about four months ago. An auditor found that Stanley had not provided sufficient documentation for numerous meals with staff members and public officials. He also authorized the purchase of computer software without a contract.

The problems came to light as the auditor was trying to sort out why a government-issued credit card was used to pay for an emergency fix to a computer system firewall that keeps out cyber intruders, a cost of about $800. Valerie Berton, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery agency, said Stanley thinks the purchase was correctly handled. The finance department disagrees.

Barney said the audit, which is looking at technology expenses, probably will be completed by fall. It has not turned up similar issues with other staff members in either county, she said.

Acting Montgomery County Planning Board vice chairwoman Jean Cryor, who also sits on the two-county commission's audit committee, said she thought the audit would help the Montgomery agency improve internal practices.

The commission usually pays government-issued credit card bills for employees when they come due, rather than wait for documentation and risk incurring penalties. The bills then are reconciled with employee submissions, Barney said.

Barney said Stanley had not responded for several months to the requests for information but noted it was a busy period for the planning agency. Much of the documentation and Stanley's reimbursements came in the past few days, after he was given a final deadline to comply, Barney said.

Berton disputed that Stanley was responsible for the delay. She said Stanley and Planning Board Chairman Royce Hanson had not been able to get a definitive list from Barney's office until this week about what was required.

Montgomery Planning Board member Joseph Alfandre defended Stanley's conduct. "This is miscommunication and misunderstanding, and Rollin hasn't done anything wrong," Alfandre said.

Stanley said in an interview that the government owes him money.

He said that he had never claimed expenses for a planning convention in Las Vegas and that had he done so, he would be owed about $300. He said he also had recently obtained receipts for $150 in catering costs for a zoning advisory meeting of members of the public at which he said it was useful to provide food "to help people stay awake."

Stanley said he had always promised to pay for personal cellphone calls. He said he is trying to decide whether he should turn in his cellphone.

Stanley's receipts show that meals for staff members, public officials and Planning Board members were mostly at places such as the Tastee Diner and the Golden Flame in Silver Spring. He said he is at fault because he did not retain receipts that showed who ate what at various restaurant meals. In most instances, he had receipts showing totals.

"The Montgomery County planning department has been cut to the bone. We are down 27 in staff. But we produced more work in the past year than any year in the commission's history. We are producing work and doing a good job. The staff deserves to be rewarded for this," he said.

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