JEFFERSON CITY — In what could be a prelude to the 2020 campaign for governor, a new state audit found questionable spending by Gov. Mike Parson during his tenure as lieutenant governor.
In a report released Thursday, Missouri Auditor Nicole Galloway, who intends to challenge Parson for the top spot in state government next year, said Parson was reimbursed with taxpayer dollars to use his personal vehicle to attend entertainment events that did not appear necessary to office operations or a reasonable use of state funds.
Among them was a $111 mileage reimbursement to attend a Kansas City Chiefs game. He also was reimbursed $133 for round-trip mileage from Jefferson City to Branson to attend the opening of country music artist Billy Yates’ theater.
In addition, the office did not maintain documentation supporting the business purposes of the trips. She also said the office did not retain a complete, accessible calendar of the lieutenant governor’s activities.
“Good governance and the conduct of state business requires transparency, openness, and accountability,” the audit noted.
In response, Parson’s office said his travels were part of his official duties to promote tourism in Missouri.
For example, General Counsel Christopher Limbaugh said attendance at the events in Branson was designed to highlight “one of the nation’s top tourist destinations.
“The aforementioned travel was directly related to the role of the Lieutenant Governor in promoting tourism in Missouri,” Limbaugh wrote in a June 21 letter.
Parson, a Republican, was elected lieutenant governor in 2016. He became governor in June 2018 after Gov. Eric Greitens resigned.
Limbaugh suggested Parson’s abbreviated term as lieutenant governor could have led to some of the issues cited by Galloway.
“The brevity of the Lieutenant Governor’s term was due to extenuating circumstances. Many of the Auditor’s findings were the direct result of a new office that was itself evolving into new and expanded roles,” Limbaugh said.
In his first year as lieutenant governor, office finances became an issue when Parson lobbied lawmakers to get more money in his office’s budget, including $35,000 to reimburse him for mileage when he drives his personal vehicle on official business. His predecessor in the office, Republican Peter Kinder, also complained about a lack of funding.
Galloway, a Democrat who has not formally announced a bid for governor, reviewed office expenditures as part of a standard close-out audit once Parson became chief executive. The lieutenant governor’s office is now held by former Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City.
She said the lieutenant governor’s office, which had five to six full-time employees during Parson’s tenure, purchased two vehicles in late 2017 and early 2018, at an approximate cost of $33,000. She said the office did not prepare documentation justifying the purchase of the vehicles, and the need for the vehicles was questionable because they were infrequently used. The office also did not maintain complete usage logs for the vehicles, one of which was sold after June 1, 2018, she said.
Limbaugh said the vehicle purchases were justified and within Parson’s discretion.
“Specifically, the vehicles were needed to assist with transporting multiple employees and large display items all at once in association with promoting tourism,” he wrote.
The audit also found that payroll and timekeeping procedures were inadequate. In one case, an intern was paid $2,330 without time sheets to support the hours worked.
The audit found the office did not perform criminal background screenings on all employees, prepare employee job descriptions for some employees or promptly remove state computer user accounts for terminated employees.
In addition, the office bought several items through employee reimbursements, rather than the normal purchasing process or state-issued purchasing cards. In one instance, an employee was reimbursed $525 twice for the same item purchased. After auditors discussed this issue with office personnel, the former employee reimbursed the state for the overpayment.
Since Parson left, the lieutenant governor’s office has grown as part of a restructuring of state government. It now oversees the Missouri Arts Council.
Kehoe had little to say in response to the audit.
“I have read and acknowledge the audit report and will take it into consideration going forward,” Kehoe noted in a July 12 letter to Galloway.