City employees are reminded of these facts regularly: Money is tight. Fuel is expensive.
So when Don Czerniak, president of Local 7 of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, learned Mayor Carty Finkbeiner had left his city-owned sport-utility vehicle idling over the weekend for more than 30 minutes, he said the action was hypocritical.
My guys stop the trucks, are told not to idle, and they are supposed to be as fuel-efficient as possible, Mr. Czerniak said. If it s good for one, it should be good for everyone, so let s not make a rule and not abide by it yourself because, if it s good enough for the workers, it should go right to the top.
Mr. Finkbeiner left Scout, his obedient yellow Labrador, alone in the running GMC Envoy.
Unlike in the past, when the mayor was cited for leaving Scout in an uncooled car while illegally parked, he avoided dog lovers ire this time by leaving the air conditioning running so the dog would not overheat. But in doing so, he broke his own rule of not wasting city fuel.
Ironically, the mayor was attending The Frogtown Fair, held at the Erie Street Market as an effort by the city to encourage greener living among residents of Ohio and Michigan.
Earlier this week, Mr. Finkbeiner would not answer questions about the incident. But his office released a statement regarding it.
Scout was in the car, with the air conditioning on, as recommended by many dog-lovers and the Toledo Humane Society, the statement said. He was cool and safe. Scout travels in air-conditioned comfort with the mayor all summer long.
Elizabeth Phillips, the mayor s spokesman, said Mr. Finkbeiner had five public events to attend between 9 a.m. and noon Saturday, including two events at the Erie Street Market.
Robert Reinbolt, the mayor s chief of staff, said Scout has a calming effect, on the entire 22nd-floor staff.
We enjoy having him around. He s very laid back, Mr. Reinbolt said. Sometimes in a very intense meeting, he will come running in with one of his toys in his mouth and break the tension.
Councilman Frank Szollosi, a regular critic of the mayor, said he would agree the dog was a helpful companion to Mr. Finkbeiner.
Mr. Szollosi yesterday recalled a quotation attributed to Harry Truman: If you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.
In August, 2007, Mr. Finkbeiner came under criticism for leaving Scout in his car while it was illegally parked in a handicapped-parking spot with the windows left open. The mayor was given a $100 ticket.
In June, Mayor Finkbeiner said the city would look for ways to save fuel costs.
Although the city s vehicle fleet has consumed less fuel this year than last, soaring prices caused its fuel expenses between January and June to exceed those of 2007 s first six months by $600,000.
The city has strictly limited the time a vehicle is supposed to idle, and officials have started plans to install equipment to shut down an engine remotely should it be left running for too long.
City employees are also not allowed to drive city-owned vehicles for personal use.
Just last month, Finkbeiner administration officials said Toledo s financial problems from unemployment, overtime, and high fuel costs during the first half of 2008 have helped sink the city more than $2.5 million into the red. At its rate of spending, the city could end the year with a deficit of $5 million or more.
Councilman Michael Ashford criticized the mayor after learning of his parking practices on Saturday.
Apparently, the mayor hasn t learned from last year when he left the dog in the car, Mr. Ashford said. Compounded with that is the fact that he left the car running for 45 minutes using taxpayer money.
Councilman Lindsay Webb said elected officials should set a good example. We set the rules for city employees and I believe as city officials, we have an obligation to follow those rules as well, she said.
Council president Mark Sobczak said there were more important issues in the city and declined to comment.
Sherri Miller, a spokesman for the Toledo Humane Society, said Scout s safety and comfort are her agency s top priorities. As previously indicated by the mayor, care must be taken when leaving a dog in the car, she said. Never leave a dog in the car without appropriate ventilation. The Toledo Area Humane Society prefers that dogs be left at home in the hot weather, but if your dog is with you and you must leave the car, the air conditioner should be left on.
She said she was confident Scout was cool and content.
In November, the mayor was told he would not be able to bring his dog to work with him at Government Center, though Mr. Finkbeiner was eventually able to convince the Ohio Building Authority, which owns the building, to allow him to bring Scout to the office.
Contact Ignazio Messina at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6171.
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