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Database Reveals Purchases Made By City Of San Diego Employees

The official seal for the city of San Diego appears on a door to City Hall in this undated photo.
Angela Carone
The official seal for the city of San Diego appears on a door to City Hall in this undated photo.
Database Reveals Purchases Made By City Of San Diego Employees
Database Reveals Purchases Made By City Of San Diego Employees GUEST: Lauryn Schroeder, reporter, The San Diego Union-Tribune Watchdog team

San Diego had to pull the budget bill to get tighter. An analysis of city employees purchases since 2015 shows unusual items charged to the city. More than 700 San Diego city employees are issued procurement cards to make purchases to be billed to the city. Most items are for standard office supplies and travel and shipping. Some revealed by the San Diego Union Tribune watchdog investigative team have been extraordinary like thousands for decorative driftwood or maracas. Joining me is Lauryn Schroeder, the reporter for the Union Tribune watchdog team. Welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. What led you to create this database as city purchases ? I did not create the database. I was perusing the city public records website. I saw that someone had requested transaction records on the cards from one department. I decided to request the entire city department wide and got the database and started filtering through it. Most of the transactions you found were pretty standard as I said. There were some eyebrow raising one's. Tell us about that. There were. Since the story has run, I have gotten explanations for if you. It does seem weird that the environmental service department was purchasing $3100 maracas and we found out that employee used to work for the library and now that purchase was for a grant within the library it was a program related. There were others that we did not understand. They were hard to explain for the administrators. We have learned that that was more San Diego police department for transporting a dangerous homicide suspect who needed to stand trial. There are others that we have not got a response on. How about the driftwood ? The driftwood was decoration for one of the city buildings. The watchdog found that the Mayor office spent nearly $300 on a budget signing ceremony and $200 for ribbon cutting scissors. What do the Mayor have to say about those items They say that it was custom-made to include the city. You can find a picture, this is the budget signing online. That was in the story. The mayor office said they planned to reuse the tablecloth the same with the ceremonial scissors. Would it be fair to say that what you are finding out is that the purchases, although they appear to be unusual do not really have anything illegal or unethical about them since they were approved by city managers? We are working on that. I managed to obtain a copy of the city key car manual which is distributed to all employees when they become a cardholder and and they are required to go through training. Everybody sees this manual. It has a list of prohibited uses. I have found some expenses that appear to fall under some of those prohibited expenses but we are flushing that out for another story. What is interesting, one aspect in this story, you are asking for help from the public. Tell us about that. That was my idea, they have more than 56,000 transactions. And is much as I would like to go through everyone and make sure it is valid and check the vendor name, I do not have the time. We are asking the readers to help us. We are asking readers to reach out to me or my editor and say I recognize this merchant and it does not make sense that they would purchase this or that doesn't make sense for this. We are hoping the readers will help us be watchdog reporters. Where does the public to find the database ? They can find it on the watchdog webpage for that Union Tribune. I have been speaking with Lauren Schroeder who is a reporter or the union Tribune watchdog team. Thank you.

The city of San Diego pulled its budget belt a bit tighter this year as pension costs cut into funding for city services.

But an analysis of city-employee purchases since 2015 shows some unusual items charged on city credit cards.

RELATED: San Diego Council Members Want More Budget Revisions


Most of those items are for standard office supplies, travel or postage and shipping. But some, revealed in a report by The San Diego Union-Tribune's watchdog investigative team, have raised some eyebrows, such as $4,200 for decorative driftwood and $3,000 for maracas.

The Union-Tribune's watchdog team is asking the public to help search the city's expense card database for newsworthy purchases.

Watchdog reporter Lauryn Schroeder talks about the unusual spending and how the city is responding Thursday on Midday Edition.