The city manager hauls his camper to Florida with a city-owned vehicle and now the Summerville City Council is questioning the use.
Employees are defending why they are driving their city-owned vehicles home. Councilmen want to know if it's necessary.
The council took City Manager Russell Thompson behind closed doors last week and quizzed him about using a city truck on vacation. Officials claim the closed door session was about his compensation.
It turns out the city manager can use the city truck for whatever he desires. The council gave the city manager unrestricted use of the city truck and put that into his contract. It also states the city must pay for all expenses relating to his truck, including fuel to Florida or wherever.
"My call-in duties are pretty much not call-in . . . Primarily the use of my vehicle after hours is more of a coming back to city hall for work outside the normal 8-to-5. Anywhere between one and two times a week, I'm by the office after hours doing something. On-call per se, I'm not on-call. . ." Thompson said.
Police Chief Stan Mosley was questioned about his, Captain Harold Tucker and his two detectives’ use of a city vehicle after hours.
"Two of those are investigator vehicles. The purpose for theirs is that they are on-call 24/7. They probably come in two or three times a week for calls. They also catch extra activity duties like if we have burglaries in the area. I think I had Brock to come in and just sit in a certain area after hours," Chief Mosley said. "They can catch calls directly from their house. These vehicles are equipped with first aid equipment, they have traffic equipment in them and equipment to use in cases of deadly force situations. I feel it's essential they keep their vehicles."
The chief's and Capt. Tucker's truck are equipped with the same amount of first aid and riot gear.
"We come in after hours. We watch the patrol division and we come in to assist patrol. When we have these get-togethers in town where we will have more than 100 people at a private party and we come in to help assist the two officers working because they need more manpower. When we have burglaries, we come in and watch the area and assist with the patrolmen and investigators. The vehicles the police department has are an essential part in keeping the public safe," Chief Mosley said.
The recreation director also defended his use.
"This year I worked approximately 30 Saturdays for sporting events. . . I worked approximately 56 hours a week during the fall and winter and spring sports. I'm called in approximately five times a month. I'll give you an example, two weeks ago I had a call that the restrooms at Dowdy Park are leaking. I go over and the flapper chain is broken and I fixed it. It took me five minutes and it saved a guy from being called in. Our maintenance guys very seldom get called in at night or the weekend. A lot of times I get the call first and if it's something I can handle, I'll do it to save paying someone four hours call in time," Recreation Director Bo Chamlee said.
He also uses his truck to travel to All-Star games and district playoffs. He also returns in the evenings to meet with coaches sometimes.
General Superintendent Tony Carroll says he and others in his department use take home vehicles because they respond to emergency water line and gas line breaks. They also have to respond during weather events, like storms and snow.
"I have four take home vehicles, myself, Terry Tinney and I have two on call guys," Supt. Carroll said. "I'm like Mr. Thompson, I usually come in two or three times a week. The calls I answer are emergency calls -- gas, water, sewer and weather related emergencies. I also respond to any emergency involving any other department to see if I need to offer support. Terry Tinney is called in about the same amount. . . He also takes on-call duty."
The council wanted to know if it was necessary to give the on-call water and gas people a vehicle to drive home. Instead, they asked if employees could drive to work, pick up a city vehicle and then respond to a water or gas leak or such.
". . . They are capable of handling most situations without having to call me or Terry. They usually get called in five to six times a week depending on weather conditions. They answer gas leaks, water leaks, sewer blockages and weather emergencies. Sometimes they have to turn on utilities that got turned off by mistake," Carroll said.
Chris Tuggle, the Wastewater Treatment Plant Superintendent, also defended his take home vehicle. Tuggle lives in Rome.
"I'm pretty much on call 24/7. . ." Tuggle said. "For example like last week when we had a power glitch, I think a transformer blew up over at Jerry's, and it caused a power glitch. My nightshift guy called me and there was a problem with getting some of the pumps and equipment brought back up. I had to come back in and try to go through a bunch of stuff to get our equipment brought back up. Things happen once, maybe twice a week that I have to come back for. . . If I'm at home and Terry Tinney calls me and there is a spill out in the city, I have to go because I'm the one that has to sign off on the permits for the wastewater treatment plant, which covers our sewer system. So I have to go. If there is a spill, I have to inspect it and call the EPD if necessary. . . I pretty much feel like there is a good need there for my vehicle."
The water filter plant superintendent, Janice Galloway, also averages three trips back to work after hours.
"Other than a convenience factor of having a take home vehicle, how much inconvenience would it be to have a centrally located area to park those and commute and pick a vehicle up to do whatever needs to be done? Would you like to expound on that?" Councilman Dale Housch said.
"It would take a little more time," Carroll said.
"You save a little time . . . If you have an emergency at the water plant you are going to want it resolved fast," Galloway said.
"Mine is just a safety issue. If my officers call for help, I don't even slow down to even tie my shoes. I put them on and I take off. I go directly to the scene. My captain is right behind me and goes directly to the scene," Chief Mosley said.
The council wants to know if taking the vehicles home day in and day out, if that is worth the city's money. Several of the employees make 25-plus mile round trips to home.
"I guess our question would be, if we are driving a vehicle home 31 times a month, are we getting our monies worth?" Councilman Joe Money Jr., questioned. "This is stuff we've got to figure out."
"If it's just coming back to city hall or coming back to a plant two or three times, would we be better cutting a mileage check if we were going to pay mileage?" one councilman said. "We really struggled with our budget the last two weeks, we don't want to be putting in more gas than we need to be."
Councilman Buddy Windle did not see any problem with the current policy.
"The system is a lot better than it ever has been. I've been on the council six years and then we had a lot of them drove it home and even used it after hours and we got that solved. I think what we've got now is working," Windle said.
"If you look at your averages and you round it up to $4 a gallon and you are using 30 gallons a month on average, that is $120," Housch said.
". . . I think most of your department heads give well over 40 hours a week. . . You get a lot more than 40 hours a week out of your department heads," Bo said.
"The only thing I would like, is to reserve the possibility of looking at it at a further date," Housch said.
Councilman David Ford wanted to know if the city ever bidded out its fuel contract. The city hasn't.
"What kind of price cut do we get on fuel," Ford asked.
"I don't know. I would have to ask. . . I know that the fuel has not been bid in a while. What they will do is if they see a fluctuation in gas prices, they will go ahead and make a delivery prior to that even if we don't need a full tank. Bagley's has done our gas for a while and they've always done pretty good," the city manager said.