Heights council continues to review vehicle usage

By BOB OLIVER
Times-Herald Newspapers

HEIGHTS — Councilwoman Janet Badalow was able to convince the city council to consider an internal investigation into whether city vehicles are solely being used for city business but not to acknowledge that the mayor’s administration has taken part in multiple charter violations over recent years.

At the city council meeting on Nov. 26, Badalow had two items, the first being a call for an investigation to verify that city vehicles are being used for city business only and to verify that the personal and commuter miles used by city vehicles have been correctly reported to the IRS.

“These can be internal investigations, but I believe the council needs to look into these matters and make sure that the charter is being followed,” Badalow said.

The city charter states that city property cannot be used for by personal reasons, but Corporation Counsel Gary Miotke said that following the charter to the letter would mean that an employee would not be allowed to use a city phone to call home during an emergency.

“I believe that personal use could be acceptable if it is, one, authorized and two, it is correctly claimed,” Miotke said. “I think that that is what we have normally seen from employees.”

The issue of city vehicle usage has been brought up at several recent council meetings by Badalow.

Councilman Ned Apigian questioned the effectiveness of an internal investigation.

“Are we going to ask the administration to investigate themselves?” Apigian said. “If we as a council want to ask them to review their process and make recommendations, I’m on board. But that’s not what Councilwoman Badalow is asking for, she wants an investigation.”

Apigian added that if the council is going to authorize an investigation they needed to decide who would investigate it and what the budget for the project would be.

Badalow stated that the investigation could be conducted by the members of the city council, which she will be leaving at the end of December when her term ends, and that they do not have to bring in an outside investigator.

Councilman Thomas Berry asked for the item to be tabled for further discussion and possibly a study session to be scheduled.

Berry has stated at previous meetings that the city should implement a system where city employees can log their fuel and mileage so that the council can review the information.

The motion to table the item passed 5-2, with Badalow and Councilwoman Lisa Hicks-Clayton opposing it.

A date for a study session was not decided during the meeting.

Badalow also called for an investigation to determine why the city’s fund balance as presented by Mayor Dan Paletko’s budget did not match what was reported to the state, but stated that she was going to review a budget report presented to the council by auditor Plante Moran before moving forward with it.

The second agenda item authored by Badalow called for an acknowledgment of multiple charter violations by Paletko’s administration over recent years.

“I have asked for a lot of financial information and for access to that information over the years and I’ve been stone-walled,” Badalow said. “These are records that should not only be open to the council, but the public also.”

Badalow said the administration has made it “very difficult” for members of the council to receive information for city finances and gave as an example a request for information that she submitted in 2007 that called for all city council members to receive a more detailed “check register” than they currently get from the city every month.

The current register given to council members lists line items that depict where the city is paying money, but not a detailed breakdown of every individual expense.

“We need this information so we can decide if the taxpayer money is being used in the best way,” Badalow said. “To get this information, we have to go to the Comptroller’s Office and start going through their filing cabinets for documents.”

Berry stated that he was in favor of helping to increase the transparency of city business, but said there wasn’t an outright refusal of support from the administration.

“We really just need update our system, because it’s really old,” Berry said. “The city is required to have all books, papers and records made available to the council and they do, but they’re hard to look through and there isn’t currently a way to have a quick, easy glance to obtain information.”

After a discussion, the motion did not receive a second so it did not even go up for a vote.

Paletko did not directly respond to the allegations during the meeting, but said he was open to discussing any financial question with members of the council, including putting a system in place to track city vehicle usage by city employees.

(Bob Oliver can be reached at boliver@bewickpublications.com.)