News 4 Investigates: Local elected official took 50 trips paid w - KMOV.com

News 4 Investigates: Local elected official took 50 trips paid with public funds

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St. Louis City Treasurer Tishaura Jones. Credit: KMOV St. Louis City Treasurer Tishaura Jones. Credit: KMOV
ST. LOUIS, Mo. (KMOV.com) -

News 4 has discovered a city elected official has taken 50 trips during one term in office, spending tens of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money, according to documents News 4 obtained,

Now, other St. Louis City leaders are calling for a full investigation.

This came to News 4’s attention from a source, but after looking into it, News 4 found out the City Treasurer has done more traveling than other elected official at St. Louis City Hall.

Treasurer Tishaura Jones has been to the streets of Paris, the White House, even Las Vegas.

Documents show she took around 50 trips in total, all paid for in part or in-full with public funds. News 4 showed the documents to several city leaders.

“I am outraged over this and shocked,” said Alderman Joe Vaccaro, Vice-Chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

“The vast majority have nothing to do with city business,” said Alderman Steve Conway, Chair of the Ways and Means Committee.

Jones was recently re-elected for a second term as Treasurer and has announced she's running for mayor in March. In her current position, she helps generate millions in revenue from meters and parking tickets in St. Louis

Of that parking money, this year, the Treasurer’s office budgeted to turn over $600,000 to the city.

Both Aldermen Conway and Joe Vaccaro want more of the parking revenue turned over to city for items such as police officers.

Conway and Vaccaro believe most of the trips Jones took were personal or political, only benefiting her, not the city.

“We have to talk about right and wrong and in my opinion, it's wrong,” said Vaccaro.

In total, she was personally reimbursed more than $22,000 for travel.

The aldermen believe about five of the trips have a legitimate purpose for her job. They cite, for example, a flight to Dallas for the International Parking Institute Conference in 2014. Jones was reimbursed about $1,100 for the trip.

But, the aldermen say there is page after page of trips that don't seem to have a clear connection to her position as Treasurer.

For example, Jones went to New York for the Cities United for Immigration Action Conference in May, 2015, costing the public at least $1,200.              

Her flight alone cost close to $800 and her hotel was more than $300 a night.

On its website, Cities United says they drive the national debate on immigration and embrace immigrants.

Vaccaro wonders why the city treasurer would attend a meeting like that.

“It's not right, it's not proper. It's not proper use of taxpayer money,” Vaccaro said.

Jones was also reimbursed for a number of other trips the aldermen find questionable. Examples, they say, include:

  • A trip to Las Vegas to assist the St. Louis County chapter of the NAACP in trying to recruit their national convention to come to St Louis: $1,140
  • A trip to Denver for the Clinton Global Initiative: $670.
  • A trip for a Black Chamber of Commerce meeting at the White House: $915
  • A trip to Chicago for an Urban league dinner: nearly $1,000.

“What does that have to do with running the Treasurer's office?” Vaccaro asked.

Also concerning to the aldermen is that some of the trips, like one to Chicago, have very little explanation. The document states simply a "meeting,” but we don't know with whom. 

Many of the credit card charges for flights have no explanation whatsoever.

“She should have way more respect for the use of the taxpayers’ money,” said Conway.

The aldermen are also questioning the ethics of it all.

They point to another example. The public reimbursed Jones $100 for a meeting with Xerox in New York. Xerox is the company that manages all the parking meters in the city.

“I clearly wouldn't do that. If there was some type of business they want to do with me, they should come to me,” said Alderman Conway.

After that meeting in New York, according to the documents, Jones went directly on to Paris to meet with Parkeon, another city vendor. Jones told News 4 she paid for the airfare on her own, while Parkeon picked up other portions of the tab.

“Could that be seen as a perk or a kickback?” asked Investigative Reporter Lauren Trager. “It was not a perk or a kickback. That's preposterous,” Jones said.

News 4 sat down with Treasurer Jones to talk about the purpose of the Paris trip.

“To inspect the manufacturing units for parking, their manufacturing facility,” Jones said.

News 4 also discussed the "meeting" in Chicago. She couldn’t recall it off-hand.

“If it was a meeting, then obviously it was related to the office,” she said.

News 4 asked her about the reasons for a number of the other trips.

“I traveled, I didn't count the number of trips,” Jones said.

She acknowledged and defended every one of the trips.

“Every one of my trips is well documented and was because  I am a leader on a national stage, I have been requested to come to meetings and conferences to speak and because I have been requested to talk with other executives,” she said.

So why should the public pay? News 4 asked how the citizens benefited. She said she learned how to be a better leader.

“I think the people of St. Louis would appreciate a Treasurer who is informed and knows what's happening in our world and in our country,” Jones said.

She said many of the trips helped her learn financial best practices.

“Each one of these trips, a small investment to save the city $6.5 million dollars,” she said.

Vaccaro and Conway aren't so sure.

“We haven't had to the opportunity to get this. Getting information from her office is like pulling teeth,” said Conway.

Both aldermen are now calling for additional investigations from either the Missouri Attorney General or the State Auditor.

“At a minimum, I want my money back. I think she should pay this money back,” said Vaccaro.

The Attorney General’s office and State Auditor’s Office say they haven't yet received any official complaints or petitions.

Alderman Conway says he will be supporting another mayoral candidate. However, Vaccaro says he'll support the candidate his ward officially endorses.

On Wednesday, the Treasurer made Facebook and website posts detailing her trips. She said in part that current Mayor Francis Slay travels more than she does.

News 4 pulled documents from Mayor Slay's travel reports from the City Register for comparison. In 2015, the mayor went on 10 trips, most of them paid for exclusively with campaign funds. According to her own website, Jones was reimbursed for 16 trips in the same year, all with some portion paid for with public funds.

News 4 reached out to the Comptroller’s Office for comment. A spokesperson provided the following statement:

“The Comptroller’s Office does not have responsibility for approving the travel decisions of elected officials. What the Comptroller’s Office does is review travel reimbursement requests for accounting compliance with City of St. Louis travel policy and regulations.

Approval for the travel budgets of all city offices is held by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment and the Board of Aldermen, with the exception of the Parking Division, which is approved by the Parking Commission.”

News 4 reached out to the Parking Commission but have not hear back.

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