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Published: Thursday, 8/9/2001

Car flap drives Monroe County to look at policy change

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

MONROE - Monroe County administrator Charlie Londo said he plans to present county commissioners with a proposed policy detailing who can drive a county-owned vehicle and when after he was criticized by one county board member for allegedly “sneaking” a $15,000 car through the budget.

At issue was the county's purchase in March of a 2001 Ford Taurus through the Michigan Purchasing Program for $15,538. The car, one of about 30 vehicles purchased for county agencies this year, was budgeted as a replacement vehicle for courthouse and grounds personnel, but is used as a supplemental vehicle by county employees, including Mr. Londo, to drive on county business.

County Commissioner David Scott said he didn't even know the county had purchased the vehicle until he rode in it with Mr. Londo last month to a hearing in Detroit.

“I was disappointed in the way it was done. I like to have everything out in front and out in the open, and I don't think this was,” Mr. Scott said. “[Mr. Londo] had a mountain of paperwork showing that it wasn't snuck through, but it was. There wasn't anything underhanded about it, but it wasn't copesetic.”

The county has a fleet of over 130 vehicles, from passenger cars to heavy trucks, that are used by employees to do things as varied as mowing the grass, transporting prisoners, and attending conferences.

In the early 1990s, the county purchased a large passenger van that was to be used by the county administrator as well as the county commissioners to attend functions. Eventually, Mr. Londo said, the van began to be used by various department heads and employees when no other county vehicles were available. It was replaced in 1999, and its replacement already has racked up about 40,000 miles on the odometer.

The Ford Taurus was meant to serve as a supplemental vehicle, Mr. Londo said, to be used by county employees and officials when the van - which is regularly in use - is not available.

“We buy 20 or 30 cars a year, and why this is being singled out escapes me,” Mr. Londo said. “It's no different than any other car we purchase for people that have to drive on behalf of the county. That van is on the road practically every day. It got to a point where somebody had it all the time, so we needed another vehicle for some of the other staff to use when they needed it.”

While Mr. Scott isn't asking for an investigation or alleging that anything illicit took place, he and several other commissioners have asked the administrator to take an overall look at the county's fleet and develop a policy that will govern its maintenance and usage.

Mr. Londo admitted that the county's administration of its vehicles “has been pretty lax” compared to some other municipalities. It doesn't, for example, require point-to-point mileage logs that would help explain the numbers on each odometer. And the county's current practice also doesn't take into account what kind of vehicle is purchased - something Mr. Londo said should be considered.

“Typically, most department heads, if it's within the budget amount that was approved, they've been able to select whatever [vehicle] they wanted. Maybe we should have some more rigid standards to the vehicles that we do purchase,” the county administrator said.

One vehicle that's raised at least some eyebrows on the county board is a 2001 Dodge Durango that was purchased this summer by the county's 9-1-1 Authority Board.

The $23,378 vehicle is being used primarily by 911 deputy director Phil Chrzan to research addresses across the county as part of a multi-year effort to bring uniformity to the previously haphazard method used to assign street numbers and names in various municipalities.

County 9-1-1 director Ron Berns said the Durango was needed because of scheduling conflicts with Mr. Chrzan, who had been using Mr. Berns' county-provided Chevy Blazer, to do his job.

“[Mr. Chrzan] would be using [the Blazer] occasionally, but if I would get called out, I couldn't go,” Mr. Berns said. “We ended up using sheriff's vehicles a lot of times.” The Durango is a base-model vehicle with “no extras or toys” on it, Mr. Berns said, and remains parked behind the jail when not in use.

About 70 percent of the county's current fleet is made up of vehicles in the sheriff's department, including marked patrol vehicles and those purchased for the department's senior managers. Mr. Londo said the practice of purchasing a county vehicle for the sheriff, the jail administrator, and the two majors dates back decades, and is a “privilege of rank” that no one has really questioned through the years because those individuals sometimes are required to respond to emergency scenes after hours.



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