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County departments urged to buy American

Members of the Taylor County finance committee took a “Buy American” stand last week as questions over a department’s purchases were raised.

County finance director Larry Brandl questioned the use of the county credit card to purchase items from Canada. He wanted clarification from the finance committee as to if it was within his job to question things that he does not think are correct.

Because of banking rules, the county credit card is ultimately under Brandl’s name. As a result, he get alerts when there are flagged uses of it or other suspicious activity. He said he received a call from Nicolet Bank last week about possible suspicious activity with an attempted charge to a Canadian firm. Brandl said he declined the purchase.

Brandl questioned the item because he knew the department’s oversight committee had questioned if they should make the purchase or not and that it was his understanding that it had to go back to the committee. He said it has happened more than once where there have been charges he did not agree with and said that he had considered just pulling his name and canceling the county’s credit card.

Committee member Tim Hansen said there were many times when the county needed to have a credit card. Committee member Ray Soper said he thought this sounded like a very specific instance.

Committee chairman Chuck Zenner, who also is chairman of the committee that oversees the department where the purchase was made, clarified that it had been approved pending further investigation to make sure it was consistent with what other departments were doing. He said he had checked with other departments and had given the go-ahead to purchase the items. Bandl’s objection was not so much with the general purchase, but with spending as much on it when there were other less expensive options. “Why is it three times more expensive than the generic kind that the other department got?” he asked.

Committee member Scott Mildbrand suggested that they prepare a resolution for the next meeting that anything purchased outside the United States would have to have prior approval by the finance committee. Hansen said this would give the department the chance to state their case about why that item was needed over one that could be purchased in the United States. He said this would also allow them to give the credit card company the heads up that a purchase was being made so that they don’t put a freeze on the card.

Brandl also raised a question about mileage reimbursement for someone who has access to a county-issued vehicle. Under county rules, if an employee has to travel they are instructed to use a county vehicle if one is available. If none are available, or in cases where it makes more sense to take their own vehicle, they may do so but will only receive half of the usual mileage reimbursement.

Committee member Ray Soper gave an example of him driving into Medford from Maplehurst to get a vehicle to go to a meeting in Hayward and that it would end up being more time and miles than just going from his home.

While not opposed to paying out the mileage in cases like that, committee members said in this case it should be kicked back to the committee because there was not enough detail about date and circumstances. Hansen said that if something looked “wonky” then the county relied on Brandl to bring it to their attention.

Committee members voted 3-2 to hold the payment until the next finance meeting with Hansen and member Catherine Lemke opposed.