The origins and timing of an audit of Mayor John Tecklenburg’s office that Charleston City Council initiated Tuesday are plainly political.
And it would be truly disappointing if this year’s mayoral race, which includes three sitting council members, were to devolve into petty intrigue rather than a robust discussion of the many challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for Charleston.
But given the concerns raised during Tuesday’s council meeting by council members Harry Griffin and Gary White, both of whom are running for mayor, an audit is an appropriate and prudent response.
Mr. Griffin brought to council’s attention the fact that Mr. Tecklenburg used city funds to print business cards that included his wife Sandy Tecklenburg’s name on the backs. Ms. Tecklenburg is the first lady of Charleston but has no paid role in city government.
The amount of money apparently involved is minor in the scheme of Charleston’s municipal budget, to be sure. And city legal staff suggested Tuesday that the business cards weren’t likely an ethical or legal problem. But the matter nevertheless could be considered a questionable lapse of judgment on a few fronts.
Inclusion of the Charleston seal alongside Ms. Tecklenburg’s name could cause some confusion about her level of official involvement in city business. And using even a small amount of city funds for something that could be construed as benefiting a spouse should have raised a red flag.
City officials still aren’t sure how much an audit will cost. It will undoubtedly far exceed the amount involved in the business card flap. Unfortunately, it’s now necessary to fully clear the air.
Mr. Griffin and Mr. White also called out Mr. Tecklenburg on Tuesday for apparently letting his wife drive his city-provided car, suggesting that doing so had exposed the city to insurance risks and other potential liabilities.
This too is a somewhat petty charge that nevertheless is worth addressing. For legal reasons, people who drive city vehicles should have city training and city insurance.
A third accusation leveled during Tuesday’s council meeting involved the processing of travel expenses. The details of what had allegedly happened are somewhat unclear, but Mr. White suggested that Mr. Tecklenburg reimbursed the city for his wife’s travel expenses rather than paying them directly out of pocket.
Based on what we know right now, none of these concerns rises beyond the level of a poor judgment call. Charleston’s top public official, however, should reasonably be expected to dot i’s and cross t’s in a way that other people might not.
This most recent debacle echoes in some ways the scolding that Mr. Tecklenburg received from Charleston County Probate Judge Irvin Condon last May for taking out an unauthorized loan from the accounts of an elderly woman for whom he was acting as a conservator.
The mayor had already paid the woman back $80,000 plus interest by the time the matter was brought to the court’s attention, but it was nevertheless an unnecessarily risky decision that raised obvious ethical concerns.
Mr. Tecklenburg, it should be noted, fully supported City Council’s audit request on Tuesday. He was forthright in answering council members’ questions and concerns as well.
Ideally the audit process will put those concerns entirely to rest so that our city’s leaders can more completely dedicate themselves to the matter of overseeing a functional, productive Charleston — even during campaign season.