The Port of Oakland said Monday it is taking steps to be more transparent in the wake of a scandal involving improper travel expense reimbursements
The scandal led to the retirement of former executive director Omar Benjamin
in November while maritime director James Kwon, who has been on administrative leave, has agreed to retire effective Dec. 28.
The port proclaimed the actions demonstrate “a new era of transparency and accountability.”
Specifically, the port is:
- Releasing the Port Purchasing Card Audit from July 2012 as originally presented to the port authority board.
- Releasing the investigative report conducted by independent outside counsel, Arnold & Porter, which looked at specific improper expenditures and the port’s overall expense policies.
- Revising its policy on redacting expenses, with the port now committing to respond to all requests for records with fully un-redacted expenses, unless there is a specific and compelling legal reason to redact information (for instance, social security numbers, personnel/human resources issues, sensitive competitive information, etc.).
The port said it has also received repayment of the public funds spent on the two identified improper expenditures in 2008, as discovered in an investigation by a local television news station in October
“It’s a new day at the port, and we are pleased to be releasing comprehensive information on the problems we’ve faced and how we’re addressing them,” said Board President Gilda Gonzales. “While the vast majority of what was uncovered was an organization of people doing their jobs ethically and responsibly, we also found out-dated policies, a few irresponsible actions, and a few isolated cases of improper expenditures.”
The port said it has developed a plan, which it dubs a “Matrix for Responsible Expense Practices,” to address the findings of the reports, which concluded that:
- Guidelines for spending on flights, hotels and meals have also been insufficient. Therefore, rules will now specify permissible levels of air travel depending on the length of the flight. New rules will also establish permissible spending levels for hotels and meals that conform with best industry practices.
- The number of persons holding Port P-Cards will be reduced. In addition, the port will step up enforcement of the existing P-Card Policy, holding both card holders and approving officials fully accountable.
“Any and all revised policies will come back to the board for public discussion and eventual adoption by the board,” the port said. “Also, any engagement of outside support for compliance and oversight will be conducted through a public competitive selection process.”
Acting Executive Director Deborah Ale Flint will lead an internal team composed of the port’s attorney, chief audit officer, chief financial officer, deputy executive director, and director of corporate administrative services, which will be responsible for overseeing the implementation of the new program and the effectiveness of all expenditures going forward.
“I want to thank all of my fellow employees who, like me, greeted the revelations of Oct. 15 with a mixture of shock, embarrassment, anger, and dismay,” Flint said. “Throughout the last month and a half, we have been moving as quickly as possible to support the investigation, and identify immediate and long-term solutions, while continuing the Port's important business, thus keeping our 24/7 operations going to serve both customers and community. While we have more work to do as an organization - internally to heal and strengthen, and externally to regain public trust, I know we will get there together.” - Eric Johnson