Mayor demands policy changes to Port Tampa Bay's credit card spending after I-Team Investigation

Posted at 6:19 PM, Jul 18, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-19 02:27:32-04

Tampa's mayor Bob Buckhorn expressed his frustration towards Port Tampa Bay Executives after what the I-Team uncovered about spending.

Buckhorn, a port board member, is calling for changes in policies and is demanding answers to questionable expenses we found on employee credit cards.

During a board meeting the mayor said, "I will tell you there are some things here that are just astounding! I think for those of us who have had the unfortunate privilege of having to read all of this and look at the expenses over the last couple of years. It's like a journey through some of the finest dining establishments in Tampa." 

For months the I-Team looked at credit card statements from the port's CEO Paul Anderson and seven of his top aides.

In the last three years those port executives spent more than $870,000.

They charged more than $30,000 in golf club memberships and outings, thousands in Tampa Bay Lightning season tickets, even skeet shooting and target practice at a gun range.

We discovered tens of thousands of dollars spent on fancy dinners at expensive restaurants like Bern's Steakhouse.

A receipt obtained by the I-Team reveals several $50 steaks, lots of premium liquor, and several glasses of wine at $20 a pop.

We found another dinner bill at Coopers Hawk Winery and Restaurant for more than $2,100. The port could not provide us the receipt.

Port CEO Paul Anderson told us for weeks they tried getting us the receipt to Coopers Hawk Winery but the restaurant couldn't come up with it. 

However we called the restaurant's customer service line and the receipt was emailed to us in 15 minutes.

You can see that receipt here.

Following our records request, former executive Ed Miyagishima, who resigned two days after our first investigation, had to pay the port back more than $11,000 in unexplained charges.  Including fancy dinners, bar tabs, and flowers.

"I was brought here to compete in the major leagues, not single a" says CEO Paul Anderson during our recent interview.  

He blames the port's board members, telling us he was given a directive to spend more on marketing. But in this meeting, board members expressed concerns over excessive spending and credit card abuse.

In reference to our findings Buckhorn tells his fellow board members "There are some questionable expenses in this. I don't know what going to Popeyes for $7 has to do with port business. There are some expenses here that you can't account for."
The mayor is now calling for new policy changes and stronger controls on spending. He wants documentation and answers for all expenses the I-Team found.

When we asked him what his initial thoughts were when going over our data he says, "Um a lot of food a lot of golf and a lot of hockey.  I think we gotta be careful where we eat, how often we eat and the reasons in which we use that credit card."

Buckhorn demanded the board revisit new policy proposals in their August meeting and wants to see a robust report on the expenses.

Hillsborough Commissioner Sandy Murman agrees and gave his motion a second.

"We need to hold ourselves to a higher accountability," she said.

Port board member Pat Allman believes in spending on marketing and hopes executives continue to do that,  but also says more aggressive oversight on spending is needed.

He tells us, "I think what came from all this is frankly I think we're gonna have better controls and hopefully we won't see any more news stories about this from you guys anymore (laughing)"

To see our original investigation click here.