Take-home vehicles are common for top government jobs, but rules apply

Photo by Jessica Furtney

Streetsboro Mayor Glenn Broska recently got a brand new Ford Escape after a crash totaled his old one. Now the police chief is getting one, too.

Across Portage County, taxpayers are financing perhaps dozens of take-home vehicles for city, village, and township officials, according to interviews with a sampling of local governments. It’s a perk their bosses say is necessary to do their jobs properly, even if it would be cheaper just to pay mileage. Often the vehicles are for emergency services personnel.

In Streetsboro, Broska (who doubles as the city’s safety director), Fire Chief Rob Reinholz, Police Chief Tricia Wain, two police lieutenants, two police detectives, two K9 officers and Service Director Bill Miller all drive city-owned vehicles.

The lieutenants rate Ford Focus models; the others drive Ford Explorers of various vintage, said Human Resource Manager Shawna Lockhart-Reese.

“They have to respond to emergencies in the city. They basically have to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week on call,” she said. “If there’s an emergency in the city, we need to contact them and they need to drop everything and get here right away, so we give them the vehicle.”

For Streetsboro officials, the question isn’t if it’s more cost efficient to provide vehicles than it would be to pay mileage for personal vehicles.

Rather, “we want to ensure that they have reliable transportation to respond to these emergencies, and for that we pay for the maintenance and the fuel for these vehicles,” Lockhart-Reese said.

Aurora

Aurora assigns city-owned vehicles to its police and fire chiefs, assistant fire chief, K-9 officer and police lieutenant, all of whom are on call and expected to respond 24/7, said Director of Personnel Karen Pope.

The assistant service director, water manager, field and grounds coordinator, and parks coordinator also get vehicles to take home because they deal with what might be called infrastructure emergencies, she said.

The assistant service director would respond to water main breaks, and the two parks and rec employees would react to alarm calls on the city’s splash pad and Sunny Lake Park equipment.

Time is money, but in emergency situations the calculus changes. Then, the goal is to resolve the situation as soon as possible. It saves both time and money to have trucks pre-loaded with equipment, so employees don’t have to worry about switching cars and rounding up materials before arriving at what, by definition, is not a routine situation, she said.

Since all the employees except the assistant service director live in Aurora, mileage to and from work is not a critical financial factor, she said.

Aurora’s list of who gets to take a vehicle home is hardly static.

“From time to time, if we know of a pending snow storm, where we’re expecting heavy snows, or any potential weather issues, maybe we have an ongoing water main break issue, the service director may take home a city vehicle, which obviously is a four-wheel-drive vehicle, in order for him to get here as quickly and as safely as possible,” Pope said. “He has that service vehicle that’s ready to come back if it has to.”

Brimfield

Brimfield Township provides vehicles for its police and fire chiefs, road superintendent, economic development director, and parks director.

The chiefs and road superintendent, all of whom are on call 24/7, need to be able to respond quickly to emergencies, Trustee Nic Coia said.

“The road superintendent, during inclement weather, he goes out in the middle of the night and drives the roads to verify conditions. If they’re bad he calls in the road crew to start doing road maintenance if need be. If they’re OK he goes home for a little bit, and goes back out,” Coia said.

Instead of paying mileage for Economic Development Director Mike Hlad to travel to Youngstown and Cleveland for meetings, the township provides him with a vehicle as well.

“He often will do that from home because he lives up towards Cleveland, so he’s already up there, so he’ll shoot up that way and meet with the developers. He has evening meetings,” Coia said.

Like the others, Hlad is a contract employee on duty 24/7, so his attendance at evening meetings is expected, Coia said.

Parks Director Cassie Weyer uses her township-owned vehicle to haul items to and from events; to unlock, inspect and lock buildings before and after events; and to run evening and weekend events, Coia said, stressing that Weyer’s is not a 9-5 job.

“She’ll come in for the day for a little bit, go home, then come back for an evening event,” he said.

All employees sign an agreement that the vehicles are to be used for township business or “light personal use.”

Translated, that means an employee may stop on the way home for a quick errand as long as it actually is on the way home, he said.

Fire Chief Craig Mullaly may take his vehicle to an outing if he knows there is an ongoing incident in a neighboring community that may require mutual aid. Or if he knows both township med units are out and no one is at the station, he may take his assigned vehicle rather than stay home, Coia said.

“There has to be common sense to what you do,” Coia said. “Our chiefs don’t take it to go out to dinner, but if they’re in the local area, they may have their vehicle with them.”

Family members and friends may not ride in the vehicles at any time, and the vehicles may not be taken on vacation, he said.

Ravenna

Ravenna’s fire and police chiefs, police captain, two detectives, and the sergeant of the detective bureau all have vehicles to take home, said Human Resources Director Heather Richkowski.

Vehicles are not to be used for personal use, period. If any of the employees are out to dinner or at an event when an emergency arises, they must respond in their personal vehicles unless there is time to return home and get their official-use vehicles, Richkowski said.

Hiram Village

Hiram assigns a vehicle to Fire Chief Bill Byers but not to Police Chief Brian Gregory, or to any other village employees, said Assistant Fiscal Officer Wendelin Taylor.

“We have a part-time fire department,” Taylor explained. “The fire chief is generally on call. Our police are full-time. They do not need a vehicle on loan from the village to take with them.”

Mantua Village

Mantua does not assign take-home vehicles to any city employees, Mayor Linda Clark said. The policy is rooted in a years-old discovery that public employees who did take vehicles back and forth had to forfeit the mileage back to the employer.

The Village of Mantua stopped providing the one affected employee with a vehicle, and hasn’t assigned one since, she said.

(However, that rule does not apply to employees who are required to respond from home to job-related incidents, County Prosecutor Vic Vigluicci said.)

Kent

Kent apparently does not keep a central list of employees who have vehicles. Each city department handles its own distribution, but Human Resources Director Suzanne Stemnock indicated her belief that few if any employees have such vehicles.

The police department has permitted its detectives to take city vehicles home, “but may not any longer,” she said, and the fire chief has one for emergencies.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.

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