Tuesday, August 11, 2009

August 11, 2009 Taxpayers Will Have To Continue To Pay for Unauthorized Car Allowances

Hamblen County is not authorized to pay car allowances to county officials. But Hamblen County pays them anyway.

Hamblen County is not authorized to provide a car or vehicle for full-time use of salaried county officials. But Hamblen County provides vehicles anyway.

And yesterday, despite state law and an attorney general's opinion, the county commission took no action to stop the unauthorized payment of car allowances and/or the unauthorized provision of vehicles for the full-time use of salaried county officials.

Instead, Hamblen County Commissioners voted to continue using taxpayer dollars to make car allowance payments while they "study" the issue.

State law regarding cars and car allowances has been on the books for years. The attorney general's opinion on cars and car allowances was made public in April 2009. The county attorney gave his opinion on cars and car allowances in May 2009. But in June 2009, the county budget was passed----WITH UNAUTHORIZED CAR ALLOWANCE PAYMENTS.

In July 2009, I asked the commission to stop the unauthorized payments. They did not do so. They sent the issue back to the August Finance Committee.

Yesterday the Finance Committee met and did not resolve the issue. Unauthorized taxpayer dollars continue to be spent while commission "studies" the situation. How long does it take to stop unauthorized payments? How many taxpayer dollars will be wasted while a study is made?

Who gets car allowances? Well, according to the county attorney, only three people get a car allowance: Assessor of Property Keith Ely ($169.32/month); Marsha Hopkins, an employee in Ely's office ($224.36/month); and Planning Director Danny Young ($350.00/month).

In the opinion of the county attorney, County Mayor David Purkey's $600/month "car allowance" is not really a car allowance. Why? Because when the Mayor requested a "car allowance," the "car allowance" was paid as a salary increase. So, in the county attorney's opinion, if someone requests a "car allowance" and if you make the "car allowance"/car expenses payment as a salary increase, suddenly it is not a "car allowance" at all.

Of course, to accept this line of reasoning, you have to totally ignore all the documents that say the $600/month is a "car allowance." The county attorney would even ignore the budget amendment-- prepared in the Mayor's office--that says "budget amendment for salary adjustment for car allowance at $600 per month."

UPDATE: See Post for September 5, 2009, for county commission's August 20 vote to stop unauthorized "car allowances" in order to come into compliance with state law.

Yep, in today's world of government entitlement and perks, in Hamblen County it all depends on what the meaning of car allowance is. It's a crying shame that a man making $83,000/year who rarely shows up in his office is so greedy that he demands an extra $7,200 taxpayer dollars so he can buy a car for himself, increase his retirement take, and make over $90,000/year plus insurance and other benefits.

Why can't the Mayor drive himself to work---like most workers do---and then check out a county car if he has county business to attend to? Or why can't he drive himself to work and then charge the county for mileage---like many county employees do---when he uses his own car for county business? Or, instead of giving the Mayor a $600/month car allowance, why doesn't the county use that $600/month ($7,200/year) to buy the county another car that can be checked out by the Mayor or others as needed?

And through it all Stancil Ford, the protector, runs interference for the County Mayor. Stancil and many other commissioners just don't understand what the average person in Hamblen County faces every day. The commission blithely gives $7,200/year of taxpayer dollars as a car allowance to a County Mayor who is already making $83,000/year so he can top off at $90,000/year and boost his already cushy state retirement.

There is never a thought to the fact that part of the Mayor's car allowance and salary comes from the widow living on a fixed income of $550/month ($6,600/year) in social security benefits, from the recently laid-off worker, from the individual who has no health insurance, and from the family that scrimps and saves to get by while the government throws more money and more perks at the richest government officials and employees.

In October 2006, only one person on the commission opposed giving the Mayor an extra $7,200/year. That person was Ricky Bruce. Ricky and I have disagreed and still disagree on many spending issues, but this is one where Ricky clearly got it right.

When the county commission said "no" to raises for county employees this year, they said "yes" once again to giving the Mayor $7,200 for a car allowance. IF that money is to be spent at all, take away the car allowance and buy the county a car instead of giving the Mayor money to buy himself a car at taxpayer expense.

Oh, and the county attorney added that the Mayor and others who get a car allowance don't even have to drive their own car on county business. They can take the car allowance and do what they want with it and then check out a county car and drive it on official business. That's one heck of a deal. The Mayor gets a car allowance salary increase but he can still use county cars or have others--like Eric Carpenter in his big new county Ford Expedition--drive him to Nashville and other destinations unknown.

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