Tourism chief slow to pay back personal charges on agency credit card

RENO, Nev. (AP) - The head of Washoe County's tourism agency has charged at least $6,400 worth of personal items and services on the agency's credit card and taken up to six months to pay the money back, the Reno Gazette-Journal reported Thursday.

Phil Keene, who is paid $180,000 a year as president and chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Convention and Visitors Authority, wrote a personal check Tuesday for $3,298.75 to the RSCVA after the newspaper inquired about his personal charges for the fiscal year that started July 1.

Tuesday's reimbursement was for items ranging from a $15.99 charge at Mission Car Wash in Reno to $80.30 at a Salt Lake City candy store to four charges totaling $1,357.75 with The Wine Enthusiast, a New York company that sells wine supplies and gifts.

In January, Keene paid $2,527.12 for 17 charges made in July and August, the newspaper said.

Keene defended the charges and said it's common practice to charge personal items for which the agency is then reimbursed.

Keene added that he often extends his own money to pay RSCVA business expenses for which he has to await reimbursement.

''So it goes both ways,'' he told the newspaper.

RSCVA has no policy on the matter, Keene said. ''If the board wants to suggest that that's an improper practice, that's a matter that we'll take up at the board level,'' he said.

The RSCVA cannot pay the Visa and Diners Club bills, which accrue interest, until Keene separates personal charges from business charges, according to Finance Department practices. That means the convention authority has waited until now to pay for charges made six months ago.

Jeff Griffin, Reno mayor and chairman of the agency's board of directors, reviews Keene's expenses. He said he has seen representatives of public agencies and private companies repay personal expenses on public or company cards.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority prohibits all employees regardless of status from using any agency credit cards for personal expenses, said Richelle Thomson, LVCVA spokeswoman.

For Nevada Commission on Tourism employees, bills for their cards are sent to their homes and employees must pay them, said Chris Chrystal, tourism commission spokeswoman. They then are reimbursed for business-related expenses.


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