Callahan calls mileage double-dipping ‘oversight’; expense reports reveal inconsistencies
County Supervisor, Assembly candidate paid back $241.32 last week
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Editor
TOMAHAWK – Lincoln County District 13 Supervisor and Republican candidate for Wisconsin’s 35th Assembly District Calvin Callahan last week responded to reports that he double-dipped on mileage reimbursement for county meetings while serving on the county board, saying his claims of extra mileage were an “oversight.” Callahan paid the money back last week.
The second-term Supervisor’s expense reports reveal inconsistencies in mileage claims, and meeting minutes contradict Callahan’s statements that an adjustment to meeting schedules lead to the inaccurate mileage reporting.
The county has since implemented a new procedure regarding Supervisors’ expense reports, according to County Clerk Christopher J. Marlowe.
Callahan claimed mileage for back-to-back meetings, paid back owed money
According to expense reports, Callahan on at least ten occasions between July 2018 and July 2020 claimed mileage for both Public Property Committee and Board of Supervisors meetings and was reimbursed, although those meetings were held back-to-back at either the Lincoln County Service Center in Merrill or the William Buedingen Training Center in Tomahawk.
No other members of the Public Property Committee claimed mileage for both meetings within that time frame, according to expense reports.
In total, Callahan was overpaid with taxpayer money by $311.23. Callahan was owed $70 by the county for a per diem payment error, so he repaid $241.23 on Sept. 16, according to a receipt provided by Callahan.
Callahan called the payment errors “a breakdown in the county’s expense report procedures.”
Callahan told the Tomahawk Leader on Thursday, Sept. 17 that when he was elected in 2018, the meetings were not held consecutively on the same day, so he claimed separate mileages. Callahan said “close to a year” after he was elected, meeting schedules were changed to hold the Public Property Committee meeting immediately before the Board of Supervisors meeting. He stated he didn’t make the necessary changes on his expense reports, which caused mileage for each meeting to continue to be reported individually.
“After it was changed, I didn’t change that on my expense sheets going forward, which was an oversight on my part,” Callahan stated. “I take full responsibility for that error.”
However, according to meeting minutes, the meetings have been held back-to-back since at least March 2018, one month before the beginning of Callahan’s term.
Expense reports reveal inconsistencies; minutes contradict meeting schedule statements
Expense reports reveal inconsistencies in Callahan’s mileage claims.
Callahan did not claim mileage for both meetings individually in May 2018, his first month on the Public Property Committee, or June 2018, but did so for both meetings in July 2018 and Aug. 2018.
Extra mileage was not claimed by Callahan in Sept. 2018, Oct. 2018 or Nov. 2018, and he was excused from both Dec. 2018 meetings.
Callahan again claimed extra mileage in Jan. 2019, and did so each following month through May 2019, when he claimed to travel to Merrill for a Public Property Committee meeting that was held in Tomahawk, according to an expense report and meeting minutes. He was reimbursed for all extra mileage claimed except for April 2019, when his expense report was adjusted by Marlowe to reflect the correct mileage.
Correct mileage was claimed by Callahan in June 2019 before he claimed and was reimbursed for extra mileage each month between July 2019 and Oct. 2019.
Callahan was excused from both meetings in Nov. 2019, and he claimed extra mileage in Dec. 2019, Jan. 2020 and Feb. 2020. Each expense report from those months was adjusted, and Callahan was not reimbursed for the extra mileage. Dec. 2019’s report was adjusted by Lincoln County Finance Department Payroll Specialist Elayne Fischer, while the Jan. 2020 and Feb. 2020 reports were adjusted by Marlowe.
Callahan did not claim mileage for either meeting in March 2020. He claimed extra mileage in April 2020 and was reimbursed.
Extra mileage was claimed by Callahan in May 2020, June 2020, and July 2020, but his expense reports were adjusted by Marlowe to reflect the correct mileage.
Marlowe said he noticed errors in Callahan’s expense reports in March 2020, when he “began looking over and adjusting supervisor timesheets” at the suggestion of county auditors.
“It never really occurred to me to look back prior to this year on anyone’s reports,” Marlowe stated. “This has been an extremely busy year trying to coordinate five elections during these extraordinary times. I also failed to alert Mr. Callahan of his error, but continued to correct the mistake each month. In hindsight I would have immediately relayed the error to him and looked back at his previous expense reports so we could have settled the books then.”
Marlowe added that Callahan never approached him to ask why his payment amount was not equal to what he claimed.
“Had he, I would have explained,” Marlowe said. “My belief is that he did not really care the amount he was being paid.”
Callahan said Marlowe did not find out about the issues regarding his expense reports until Marlowe was contacted by a local media outlet that was looking into them, after which Marlowe contacted Callahan and the county began looking into the matter internally.
“That’s when we found the mileage discrepancies, but also the per diem issues,” Callahan stated.
Callahan did not offer a specific explanation for the inconsistencies in his mileage reporting, but pointed to the Nov. 3 election, in which he will face Merrill Democrat Tyler Ruprecht in the race to represent Wisconsin’s 35th Assembly District, as a reason the information about his expense reports came to light last week.
“This came from somebody else on the county board that found out about it, and they didn’t bother to tell (Marlowe), they didn’t bother to tell me to try to fix it. They were obviously trying to do a political thing,” Callahan stated.
Callahan did not specify which board member or members may have contacted the media.
Callahan did not offer a specific explanation for meeting minutes contradicting his statement that a change in meeting schedules lead to the inaccurate mileage reporting, but said he wouldn’t “just put (inaccurate mileage) on there for the heck of it.”
“I don’t remember,” he said. “It was two years ago.”
Marlowe said he “may have planted that seed in (Callahan’s) head as I recalled the (Public Property) meetings, not that long ago, being on separate nights.”
“I feel Supervisor Callahan was sincere in his attempt to quickly resolve the issue,” Marlowe stated.
Expense report procedure
Marlowe said the county has “implemented a procedure to catch these errors prior to any claims of wrongdoing.”
The procedure involves the prior month’s expense reports to be turned in by the 10th of the following month, with Supervisors being paid on the third Tuesday of each month, Marlowe explained.
“Expense reports are filed in the clerk’s office until they are forwarded to our payroll specialist for reimbursement,” Marlowe stated. “Before they are forwarded to payroll, they are now checked for accuracy by me, and my signature is placed on the report, signifying that they are accurate and complete.”
The previous procedure required the county’s payroll specialist to verify supervisors’ attendance to each of their meetings by verifying their signature was on the meeting sign-in sheet or by viewing the minutes.
Marlowe said that, prior to the current procedure, “mileage was assumed as accurate and nobody challenged their claims.”
“I am now also tracking who has their reports turned in and prompting those who do not,” Marlowe stated. “It is not uncommon for supervisors to fall behind which makes it more difficult to recall their meetings and mileage. I am confident that these actions will eliminate this type of thing from happening again. It unfortunately adds work to an already very busy office, but it is ultimately best practice. I believe that elected officials are in place to maintain these checks and balances. Our electeds also have to be held accountable. I am glad to help shore up this process. Had we had this procedure in place earlier, we could have avoided all this. I began initialing or signing these expense reports around March and have since adjusted the template to include a line for my signature. Not all our supervisors are using this template, but they will be in the very near future.”