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New council members consider new credit card policies as investigations proceed

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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -

City Council members are bracing for investigators as they prepare to turn over documents pertaining to their handling of city credit cards.

With the state launching two investigations, new council members are talking about tightening up a system that many say is too loose.

For 16 years she has operated Viet, a nonprofit in New Orleans East, and newly elected Councilwoman Cyndi Nguyen has strong ideas on how public money should be managed.

"When I submit my budget I, attach all the receipts," said Nguyen as she stood in front of a cabinet with five years worth of documents bound and sealed for regular audits.

With the state attorney general and the legislative auditor now looking into allegations of council credit card abuse documented by FOX 8, incoming council members say it’s time for change.

"Based on what we've seen, I don't think there is accountability, and there has to be accountability in the City Council," said Nguyen.

"First off, any time there's no cohesive policy that's established, this is what happens," said incoming council member Kristin Gisleson Palmer.

But it looks like things are about to change. Four of the five new council members believe the council should consider new, tighter office spending policies.

"I definitely want to collaborate with my council partners, and I'm sure several council members would want to co-author this bill," said Nguyen.

"I would be fully in support of having guidelines that will spell out our fiduciary responsibilities to taxpayer," said incoming council member Jay Banks.

"It would be great to work with the new council members coming in to craft a policy," said Palmer.

She  says during her previous stint on the council, she painted her council offices using her own money, and she says in lieu of a new policy there’s one sure way to avoid problems.

"Don't even use them, put them in a drawer," she said.

"To me it's common sense. You shouldn't use the card for personal use, it should be used for public interest. But if we need a policy, I'm 100 percent with that," said Banks.

So far, sources say subpoenas haven’t yet been served and documents haven’t been turned over in a criminal investigation now confronting the mayor-elect and the council.

"I feel that's hard-earned sweat money, and we have to be responsible," said Nguyen.

As the investigations proceed, Nguyen says she may propose a system that requires a documented reimbursement system instead of credit cards.

"I don't have a credit card here with this organization, so I'm open to it," said Nguyen.

She and the others  say they are open to changes to close loopholes.

Councilman Jason Williams issued a statement today about possible changes in card policies, saying: "There's always room for policies and practices to be updated,"and he says he plans to cooperate with any requests "on how this office spends its budget."

Councilwoman-elect Helena Moreno says she, too, is in favor of tightening up policies and setting up a system of independent review of council expenses.

Councilman-elect Joe Giarrusso said he looks forward to working with the new council members on new credit card rules that will tighten up existing policies. 

Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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