Policy would limit employees’ use of city vehicle

“I know we can make a blanket statement and say, ‘Hey, there are people that don’t need to be driving these cars home.’ But tell me who, tell me what department.”
— Councilman Thomas Berry

By DANIEL HERATY
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS – A policy that would restrict use of city vehicles by city employees sparked a heated discussion Tuesday among City Council members.

A resolution introduced by Councilwoman Margaret Van Houten would prohibit after hours use of city-owned vehicles by some city employees. She said that between the high price of gas and possible liability exposure, only the mayor and police and fire chiefs should be permitted to use city-owned vehicles.

She said council Chairman Kenneth Baron recently showed her pictures of a city employee who covered up a city seal with a magnet.

“These abuses are happening,” she said, “and they need to be addressed.”

Councilwoman Janet Badalow agreed.

“The crux of (the resolution) is that we are in dire straits with our budget,” she said. “Other cities have made moves to curtail use of city property.”

Badalow added that the new rule’s proposed effective date, July 1, would allow departments to make the necessary changes to end the practice.

Councilman Thomas Berry said he wanted further inquiry into the policy, which he believes should apply to departments, not individuals.

“We need to know the functionality of the departments before we pull the carpet out,” he said. “I know we can make a blanket statement and say, ‘Hey, there are people that don’t need to be driving these cars home.’ But tell me who, tell me what department.”

Councilwoman Margaret Horvath agreed, saying she would like to meet with the department heads.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” she said. “I talked with some of the department heads and they gave pretty good arguments as to why they should keep their cars.”

Mayor Daniel Paletko said the resolution was “irresponsible,” and that it should have been studied by the council. He said city employees need to be out on the streets when emergency situations arise.

During a rainfall, the mayor said, a resident’s basement started to flood and he made a call to get the situation resolved.

“Those are matters that they respond to, and you need those emergency people,” Paletko said. “Very few (city employees) have cars. These are emergency items.

“Quite frankly, most of these individuals are using these cars in a response to an emergency situation. You don’t want to jeopardize the community, the property … in regards to a policy of this sort.”

The council agreed to table the resolution until a study session Tuesday. Badalow and Van Houten voted against the motion to table, as they wanted to vote on it immediately.

(Daniel Heraty can be reached at dheraty@bewickpublications.com.)