Mayor's vehicle usage questioned

Cary Ashby • Apr 3, 2019 at 10:00 PM

What’s the proper usage of a Norwalk city vehicle?

Councilman Jordy Horowitz brought up that issue during Tuesday’s meeting based on complaints he received from residents. He said people reportedly have seen the vehicle being used when the person was “working out at the rec center,” parked in the user’s driveway and for “putting campaign signs out.”

“It’s being used for personal use,” Horowitz told council, noting that his understanding was the vehicle as supposed to be “for city use only.”

At first, Horowitz didn’t name the driver, but much later during the discussion he said it was Mayor Rob Duncan. In an email Tuesday to Councilman Matt Doughty, Horowitz wrote “it is the opinion of several constituents that this vehicle is being abused by our mayor.”

“Another question was why is this vehicle parked in the driveway of Rob's personal address nightly? I assumed that was an exaggeration, so I asked city employees if this vehicle was left in the parking lot at night. I confirmed that the vehicle is seldom in the lot after hours,” Horowitz also said in the email.

During the meeting, Horowitz said he doesn’t want to consider the topic an accusation, but stressed it’s the job of council members to discuss such issues. Doughty said he “heard similar complaints” about the possible improper use of city vehicles.

Duncan denied using a city vehicle to distribute campaign signs, but said the red truck seen by someone was his and was driven by his wife at the time.

“I will say, Mr. Horowitz, no signs have been put out of that (city) vehicle,” the mayor said, pointing at the council member as he spoke and noting he wanted that known “for the record.”

Councilman Dave Wallace, during Tuesday’s meeting, said since he also is campaigning for mayor, he felt it was important to address the matter even though he originally wasn’t going to do so with council. Wallace will face Duncan in the May primary.

“I’m not using any city vehicle to put out any signs,” Wallace said.

Wallace said a constituent called him Tuesday and “put me in a uncomfortable position” about a red vehicle, possibly a truck, being used by someone to put out campaign signs. He didn’t name anyone specifically.

“That’s my personal vehicle. It’s red and my wife was driving it,” Duncan said.

Horowitz researched the use of the city vehicle. Administrative assistant Lisa Hivnor, who is in charge of the vehicle in question’s usage, told him it has been driven 11,261 miles in slightly more than 13 months “five days a week, (which) comes to 41 miles per day,” Horowitz said in his email.

“I also talked with (finance director) Michelle Reeder about the financial responsibility of the city for this vehicle. All gas and maintenance has been paid by the city,” he also wrote. “I think the citizens of Norwalk would find it unacceptable that the city has paid for 100 percent of the gas and maintenance if not used for solely for city business.

“I am not sure if this is an issue of legality, but think it is certainly an issue of abuse or mismanagement of power. I don't think city council had the intention of this vehicle to be used as a full-time vehicle.”

Noting comments that Dan Wendt, the previous safety-service director, said multiple times to council in pitching the need for a new vehicle, Horowitz said in his email it “was needed due to the poor condition of other vehicles. He also reiterated that this vehicle would be used solely for city business.”

According to the city handbook, under the “use of city vehicles,” “employees are required to use privately-owned vehicles for purposes of getting to and from work. Unless specifically authorized by the mayor or department officials, city-owned vehicles are not to be used for this purpose. … The employer shall not use or permit the use of a city vehicle for any purpose other than city business. Employees shall not permit family members or friends to ride in city-owned vehicles unless specifically authorized.”

“I have been informed that Rob is not an employee. He is an elected official and that this activity is not illegal. I have also been told that the IRS allows for this activity if the individual is taxed. Rob has been personally taxed approximately $60 for the year without complaint,” Horowitz wrote.

Duncan told council he has been keeping track of the mileage he uses on his personal vehicle for city time since he can get a tax break.

Horowitz said Tuesday he doesn’t understand how the city vehicle can be used at a daily average of about 40 miles. In his email, he wrote “if family members or friends have ridden in the vehicle during non-business use, it would be of great concern for liability reasons.”

Also, Horowitz said he discovered in his research that Norwalk doesn’t use log sheets for vehicle usage, as other cities do. 

Councilman Bryan Lamb said he wanted a “full picture” of how city vehicles can be used. President Steve Euton requested Norwalk Law Director Stuart O’Hara research the policy and procedures and bring them back to council, added Lamb’s request and said council members need a “yard stick” to look at the situation properly.

“Before we can measure anything, we need to know what the yard stick is,” Euton added.

O’Hara, when first asked about the policy on city vehicle usage, said basically it’s the decision of administrators, but council could create legislation about it. 

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