The Pasadena City Council has raised some spending limits for credit cards used by city staffers after a council member pointed out that employees were routinely breaking city rules and exceeding the prior limits, including to purchase items from another council member’s family business.
A divided council voted 5-4 this week to adopt the new policy after questions were raised about how staffers were using their credit cards, also known as procurement cards.
“For years now, the city has been in violation of this ordinance,” Councilman Sammy Casados said at an early-November meeting, when they first voted on the proposed changes. (New city laws are voted on twice.)
Casados argued that city officials should get in compliance and stay with the original rules. Instead, the council majority led by Mayor Jeff Wagner decided to relax the spending limits.
“This is an opportunity for us to move forward and correct the things that were done wrong in the past and get things right for the future,” Councilman Bruce Leamon said.
A sampling of monthly limits for new product-specific cards:
City car wash: $3,000
COP HVAC: $10,000
COP Plumbing: $5,000
COP Transmission Rpr: $5,000
COP Travel: $30,000
Dignitary Protect 2: $1,000
Electrical Dept: $15,500
Fleet Dept – Auto Parts: $10,000
Fleet Maint – Apple Glass: $3,500
IT Supply: $10,000
Safety Shoes – HYTEST: $11,000
Toll Road: $3,000
Casados first raised the issue when he noticed frequent purchases being made at Councilman Cary Bass’ family business, Bass & Meineke. The business used to contract with the city for auto parts and batteries but stopped doing so after Bass was elected to the city council in 2015.
Spending at Pasadena council member’s family business raises questions
Still, Bass’ family business continued to benefit from employees purchasing what city staff said were car batteries from Bass & Meineke, often by exceeding credit-card limits.
Pasadena city workers charged $40,615.88 over 10 months at Bass & Meineke, ending Sept. 5, according to a Houston Chronicle review of city records.
“If we’re buying batteries from him, why don’t we have a contract anymore?” Casados asked at a City Council meeting Sept. 17.
Bass was advised by the city attorney then not to comment because Bass cannot vote on or discuss matters related to the business, which was founded by his parents in the 1950s. His father, Edward Bass, died Sunday.
The new credit card rules maintain individual spending limits for managers, supervisors and staff. But facility maintenance staff now have spending limits equal to managers, who were historically allowed to make the highest charges (up to $750 per transaction and $2,500 per month).
More significantly, they also created separate monthly limits for purchases made with product-specific cards, such as cards for car washes ($3,000 per month), HVAC ($10,000) and plumbing ($5,000). Transaction limits are not listed.
In the past, it has been easy to spot purchases that exceeded the $750 transaction limit.
The Nov. 5 agenda listed charges of $1,528.80 and $1,407.00 to Mister Car Wash, charges of $1,149.90 and $3,328.75 to Bass & Meineke and a charge of $6,965.00 to a company listed as “Metro Fire Apparatus S.”
Wagner has said the credit card limits needed to be cleaned up to match the way the city was operating. At the early November meeting, Councilman Thomas Schoenbein agreed it was time to update the policy.
Councilman Phil Cayten said no one intentionally tried to abuse the process and described the fixes as “minor corrections.” The cards are meant to make routine, small purchases easier.
Cayten, Leamon, and Schoenbein backed the changes, as did Wagner and Bass.
In addition to Casados, council members who opposed the policy were Ornaldo Ybarra, Don Harrison and Cody Ray Wheeler.
Wheeler said the revisions at least acknowledged something was wrong. Nevertheless, the council members opposing the revisions Nov. 19 still found them problematic.
“There’s no checks and balances,” Harrison said. “They’re checking themselves.”
This story has been updated.