Two city staffers expensed a meal at a drag bar in 2015.
The bar in question, called Darcelle XV Showplace, is located in Portland, Oregon, and is described as the longest-running drag show on the West Coast of the United States. When the pair of staffers expensed their visit to the bar, they were in Portland for the Behind Every Leader conference, which is hosted by the Executive Assistant’s Organization.
A charge appears on a list of City credit card expenses from Friday, November 23, 2015 at the bar, for a total of $62.23, and is listed as “Darcelle XV-Meals”.
When approached for comment as to why public funds were used at a venue which specializes in adult entertainment, Todd Corrigall, the Acting Director of Strategy and Partnerships, indicated that the expense was within the rules the City currently has in place for travel and meal expenses.
“Two senior administrators attended what’s considered the best executive assistant administrator conferences, and they went out for dinner, so total for tax and tip per person works out to $23 dollars U.S, which I think is quite reasonable,” said Corrigall.
“When you do the exchange rate, it obviously goes up, but unfortunately, we can’t dictate where the best conferences are, and sure, so it comes out to $61 dollars, I did see comments about paying cover charges. I think if you actually look at the exchange rate, then you would be saying that they had two meals, tax and tip included for $6.”
The total cover charge for entrance to the venue is listed as $20 on their website, along with a “Showtime Menu” which shows a variety of food options, the prices of which do not include the cover charge. According to Corrigall, cover was not paid with a City credit card.
As for how a visit to a drag bar was linked to the Behind Every Leader conference the staffers attended, Corrigall indicated that staffers need to go out for meals when they are not included as part of conferences.
“I don’t know that you can necessarily put a specific on how that tied to the conference, I’m not sure if other people joined, those two individuals, I couldn’t speak to that,” said Corrigall.
“I wasn’t there, so I don’t know sort of what the pretense is for that, but certainly, when our team members go away to a conference, if a meal is not included, obviously they need to go out for that meal, and they’re well within their rights. I think again, $46 dollars for two people for dinner is pretty reasonable.”
Corrigall also said there are currently no parameters on where staffers can go for expensed meals, or a limit on the amount that can be expensed.
“This is something that we’re looking at,” said Corrigall.,
“There is certainly a policy that we’ve been working on to sort of create a lot of those parameters that whether it’s per diems or it’s ‘here is your allotment for breakfast, lunch, and dinner’. Those types of strategies, that obviously has to be a policy direction that will come forward to us, so we are working on it, as part of our enhanced transparency and accountability process, and we look forward to bringing that forward. When we talk about stipulating where somebody can go, for a meal, we don’t have that. We have an expectation that our team members are smart enough to say ‘I’m not going to go to a ritzy steakhouse for a $200 meal’ unless there is some business purpose, some explainable business purpose for that. So, in this instance, two team members went to a cabaret, and spent $23 and change per person for dinner.”
Corrigall also said there are no limits on conference expenses in general.
“I think how you achieve that, and a lot of the policy that we’re looking at is provincially and federally, to try and craft our own policy around that,” said Corrigall.
“So, there’s different processes that we see for that. Some of them just set a per diem, and that’s what you’re paid, so that you can mitigate staff expenses inputting singular receipts. Some people say ‘here is your parameter, keep submitting your receipts’ so there is a lot of different things. We’re trying to come up with current best practice, but also looking forward in how we really sort of roll this all in to being fully accountable.”
According to Corrigall, work is ongoing to set up expense parameters for future travel. A timeline for when these changes will be brought forward is not yet known.