By John Schaffner

The spending habits of several Atlanta City Council members were questioned in a city audit released March 16 that also criticized recordkeeping and said several longtime city spending practices should end.

Another significant recommendation in the audit report was that council members should stop carrying money in their individual taxpayer-funded accounts from one year to the next.

Council members had a combined $2.9 million in their accounts as of June 30, when the city’s budget year ended, according to the audit. Council members often use the money to fund projects in their districts.

The auditors reported that few large cities carry money from one year to the next. But Atlanta council members have voiced reluctance to return unspent money to the city’s general fund because they lose control of it and don’t know how the mayor will spend it.

Among the council members the city auditor singled out in the 78-page report were council President Lisa Borders, Ceasar Mitchell and Mary Norwood. The report says the three may have violated Atlanta’s procurement code by paying more than $20,000 to vendors in a particular year without seeking bids from others who might have wanted to apply for the contracts.

Borders reportedly has told the auditors that $21,250 she paid part-time employee Anthony D. Benton during the past fiscal year should have been paid through a salary account. Apparently he was wrongly listed as a vendor rather than an employee.

Mitchell, who is an announced mayoral candidate, has said he didn’t think it was practical during the two fiscal years that ended June 30, 2007, to seek other applicants to bid on services he paid his brother to perform, which totaled $49,223. He has agreed to pay $15,000 in penalties and refunds.

An earlier investigation into council spending resulted in Mitchell and Councilman Kwanza Hall reaching settlements with the city’s ethics board for code violations regarding how they used some of their city-funded accounts.

Auditors said Norwood, who also is a mayoral candidate, paid $25,000 in each of two consecutive years to Tucker Castleberry and Tucker Mailing Printing for printing services — mainly her newsletter. The councilwoman has disputed those totals, claiming she spent far less for those services.

Among the nine recommendations made by the auditor were the suggestions that a council member should not spend more than his or her account contained in a particular budget year and that council staff members should receive ethics training.