ORLANDO, Fla. — Some Orlando city commissioners are using their budgets for capital improvements, but 9 Investigates learned that one commissioner has spent a lot of the money in his budget for food, events and travel.
City commissioners have spent a total of $70,000 just on credit cards that residents pay for, but more than half of that amount was spent by Commissioner Sam Ings.
Reports from the city detailed how commissioners are spending money that some feel is intended to help pay for improvements and services in their districts.
"Public tax dollars are not there for elected officials to spend on themselves. It's that simple," Mike Cantone of Tax Watch said.
The city increased the commissioners' budgets in the new fiscal year from $95,000 to $125,000 for each commissioner. This money is spent at the commissioner's discretion.
Since the fiscal year began in October, Ings has spent $38,000 of the $70,000 already spent by commissioners using the city issued credit cards. Ings also spent another $52,000, which was labeled as operating expenses.
Document: All purchases by Orlando city commissioners in fiscal year 2015/2016
"When a city commissioner uses these taxpayer-funded expense accounts as their personal slush funds, while also earning a city salary, it raises serious ethical questions and it leaves me and many others wondering, 'Where is the accountability in City Hall?'" Cantone said.
This is the second straight year Ings has outspent the other city commissioners. In 2015, 9 Investigates learned that he spent $15,000 on out-of-town travel on conferences, meals, catering and entertainment. Some had also questioned a $887 bill at the Amway Center and $783 at Metrowest Golf Club.
"This unacceptable spending behavior continues to go unchecked by (Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer) and city council," Cantone said.
Document: Credit card purchases by Orlando city commissioners in fiscal year 2015/2016
City Commissioners Jim Gray, Tony Ortiz and Robert Stuart spoke out last year against the budget increases after Commissioner Regina Hill spent $90,000 of her budget and then led the effort to increase the budget. Their concerns did not stop a majority vote to approve the increase.
"It's your job as a leader to keep yourself within that budget and if you can't then you need to explain why and make an adjustment," Gray said.
This fiscal year, Commissioners Hill and Patty Sheehan are second and third in credit card spending, behind Ings, with $11,000 and $10,000 in charges, respectively.
Ings said he would contact 9 Investigates to provide a clearer understanding of how the money was spent. He has yet to do so.