Council members, department heads clash on city vehicle usage

By NEAL WAGNER / City Editor

The president of the Pelham City Council said he believes Pelham employees are using their city-furnished vehicles “excessively,” and a few council members said the city should consider reviewing its employee vehicle use policy.

The comments came during the council’s May 9 pre-meeting work session, but council members took no action on the matter.

During the work session, Council President Mike Dickens said the city could cut back on its operating expenses by cutting back on the amount of city vehicle usage.

“I’m not saying there’s any fraud going on. I’m saying there is excessive use of city vehicles,” Dickens said. “We beat folks in here and the mayor up about cutting back all the time.

“We spend an exorbitant amount of money on cars that are being driven,” Dickens said.

Dickens said the city needs to put a new vehicle usage-reporting system into place to bring the city in line with Internal Revenue Service codes.

Currently, Pelham employs about 300 people and has an inventory of 164 vehicles, said Pelham Finance Director and City Clerk Tom Seale.

Dickens and other council members said the council should require all city department heads to justify the number of city vehicles used in the department and the type of usage the vehicles see.

Dickens suggested the city require its department heads to “start from zero” and require them to submit a list of positions in their department in need of a city vehicle. The list would then be reviewed by the mayor before being submitted to the City Council for approval or rejection.

However, Councilman Steve Powell said the city should require the department heads to review current vehicle usage in their departments and submit a list of which positions should retain usage of a city vehicle.

“We have people using city vehicles to the extent that they don’t have personal vehicles,” Dickens said, shortly before Pelham Mayor Don Murphy said unauthorized personal use of city vehicles is “a firing offense.”

“We have said to the citizens of Pelham ‘We are going to fix the sewer situation, and we are going to charge you a bunch of money,’ and we did. I think we have a waste going on that we can not allow to go on.”

But Pelham Police Chief Tommy Thomas and Pelham Revenue Director Mike Morgan said they disagreed with Dickens.

“I welcome anyone to scrutinize my department. I can justify all of my vehicle use,” Thomas said.

Morgan said the city should enforce the policies it already has in effect, which would involve dealing with city vehicle misuse on a case-by-case basis.

“If (misusing a city vehicle) is a firing offense, make a recommendation to the department head when you see it happening,” Morgan said. “If we find the complaint is valid, fire the individual.

“Many of us are first responders,” Morgan added. “It affects all of us if we penalize everyone instead of just those who are in violation.”