A state auditor's report released today found that the state could have saved more than $32,000 if it had assigned a state car to Howard Lee.
Instead, he chairman of the State Board of Education was allowed to rent one at a cost of more than $1,500 a month for the past three years, Dan Kane reports.
The investigative report also found that the state Department of Public Instruction improperly reimbursed Lee $9,500 for meals he billed the state. The report said that Lee continued to bill the department for meals he received when he was no longer eligible by virtue of his appointment to a commissioner's slot on the state Utilities Commission.
DPI officials told auditors they continued to reimburse Lee because they did not realize that his position on the utilities commission was a state job.
More after the jump.
Lee was in a hearing this morning and could not be reached for comment on the report. He is a former state senator from Chapel Hill, and was appointed to the state education board by Gov. Mike Easley in May 2003. Board members are not paid a salary but are eligible for mileage reimbursement and other travel expenses.
Two years later, Lee was appointed to the utilities commission, where he makes $119,000 a year.
DPI officials in a written response said that the State Budget Office agreed to let Lee rent a Chrysler 300 after they determined he was not eligible for a state car.
They also said that they decided against his leasing a car because it would have locked the department into a long-term contract. They now concede that since Lee used the car for three years, they could have saved more than $26,000 if they had leased it.
DPI officials said Lee has reimbursed them $2,300 for meals. DPI said the lower amount reflects roughly $7,700 in meal money he should have received before his appointment to the commission.
The report also said that most of Lee's mileage on state business comes from his 40-mile commute from home to work and "short trips around the Raleigh area." The auditors recommended that DPI obtain a state car that it can give to Lee when he is conducting board business.