'Playing With Fire' update: Pension board to review card use

"The goal here is to get the best practices," said Firefighters Pension Board CEO and Secretary-Treasurer Richard Hampton at a board meeting Thursday.  But the board doesn't even follow the best practices laid out by the state's legislative auditor.

"There's no alcohol purchased under the pension fund credit card," Hampton told us in an interview.  "If anybody drank alcohol, it was purchased by an outside investment manager."

A receipt showed otherwise.  The pension board paid $1,000 for unlimited beer, wine and liquor.  The receipt didn't come from the pension board, though -- they don't keep any.

"I reviewed the credit card statements," said Hampton, "and as long as everything I see on the statement is in compliance with our rules and our expense policy, there's not an issue."

The board's policy states they have an expense review committee.  The problem is they never created one, until Thursday.

"Given the info that was reported, our thoughts were that a review of our expense policy and a review of all checks and balances that we have in place for expenditures is warranted," Hampton told the board.

The board ordered that committee to review past expenses and create a tighter policy for the future.

Hampton said, "What we need to do is regain the confidence in anybody that would have any doubts that any actions that this board take were actions that were inappropriate or illegal [sic]."

Our story Monday night showed the New Orleans Fire Pension Board issued 11 credit cards to members and employees.  New Orleans City Hall has a total of five cards for 4,000 employees.

But the board voted to suspend the use of all but one card -- the card assigned to the office will remain available for use.

"I think it would be appropriate, until committee does a report and makes a recommendation, that the credit cards assigned to any of the trustees cease to be used." Hampton said.

Trustees mainly used their cards for travel, but some charged meals.  And with no receipts, it's hard to track what's a legitimate expenditure.

The board had some pricey restaurant bills -- $2500 at Mr. John's, $1100 at Tommy's Wine Bar -- but all of that will stop now, as the Fire Pension Board tightens its policies on spending.

I know everyone is busy, I know everyone has got commitments, but it's a necessary thing and I think that we've got to do it," said Board President Bud Carrouche.   "We just have to make it our number one priority."