It's hard to understand why a petty cash fund in the Pittsburgh mayor's office was ever a means of paying expenses.
It's easy to understand why the fund should be abolished by city council.
City Controller Michael Lamb, whose office audits the so-called imprest fund annually, stated the obvious this week when he called the fund a "vestige of the past" and recommended its elimination.
The fund recently became news after Post-Gazette reporters Rich Lord and Moriah Balingit reviewed Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's campaign and credit and debit card records for travel from 2010 through 2012. They found that the imprest fund was used to pay the bill on his city credit card, but records also show it isn't clear whether the fund should be used to cover expenses of any other city employees.
The fund was established in 1995 under former Mayor Tom Murphy and, although the legislation that created it doesn't specifically say what it was to be used for, officials have said it's for official city business.
City employees typically pay for city-related travel costs either by having them authorized and paid in advance, or by covering the expenses themselves and then seeking reimbursement from the city. Either way, approval from city council is required. By using the imprest fund, however, the mayor's travel and other expenditures sidestep council.
That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the mayor traveling for city business, and there's nothing secret about the fund because city auditors get copies of statements from the credit card company and the results of audits by Mr. Lamb's office are publicly available.
However, the fund does allow the mayor to bypass the city's normal policy for travel expenditures, and there's no good reason for that.
Recent revelations about the misuse of dollars that have been funneled through side accounts in the city police bureau are a warning that doing business off the normal books is the wrong way to operate.
Council should put an end to it.