Keith Gardner says he just got “sloppy.”
His excuses for using his government-issued credit card for nearly $5,000 in personal purchases are even sloppier.
And he hasn’t paid much of a penalty, unless you consider having your sloppiness and bad judgment reported by Journal UpFront columnist Thom Cole, and the embarrassment of having to have future credit card charges approved in advance.
Gardner, Gov. Susana Martinez’s chief of staff, used his government card for personal items – a prohibited practice – such as new tires, a necktie, a cell phone, heartburn medication. In all, he used the card for more than 40 purchases at hotels and stores like Walmart, Target and Best Buy.
He has reimbursed the state for the nearly $5,000, but hadn’t paid $241 in required interest until after a Journal inquiry. The inquiry also found $448 in personal purchases he perhaps had overlooked, which he also reimbursed.
In 2011 Gardner signed an agreement saying he had been trained in and understood state policies for using a state credit card, including the ban on personal purchases. Using a state government card for any non-state business is prohibited, and policy and procedures say disciplinary action will be taken against those who misuse the card. Gardner so far has faced no such discipline.
Given his reimbursements, Gardner is believable when he says he had no intent to defraud the state or enrich himself. That said, there are advantages to using the state’s card: Avoiding interest and avoiding tax on items that are tax-free with the use of a government credit card.
But the greater problems here are perception and practice. With more than 100 of these cards being used by state employees, strict rules must be in place to protect the taxpayers.
And there can’t be one set of rules for Gardner and one for everybody else.
As Martinez’s top man, Gardner’s behavior sets a poor example for all state credit-card carrying employees.
Poor judgment and sloppiness are an explanation, not an excuse. The notion that he just carried over this practice from his years of owning a small business where this is typical should be rejected out of hand. Especially when he was given the training and signed that he understood.
The governor should not let this slide with the equivalent of an “aw shucks” this stuff happens. That wouldn’t – and shouldn’t – be the reaction for any other state employee. Some discipline is warranted, if for no other reason to send a message.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.