City employees fall short on vehicle logs
The Providence Journal (Rhode Island)
December 14, 2007 Friday
City employees fall short on vehicle logs
BYLINE: David Scharfenberg, Journal Staff Writer
SECTION: NEWS; Pg. C-01
LENGTH: 1000 words
A review of public records shows only spotty compliance with the record-keeping ordinance.
CRANSTON - Officials have largely failed to comply with a 13-year-old ordinance designed to discourage city employees from making personal use of municipal vehicles, according to a review of public records by The Providence Journal.
The regulation requires employees to maintain detailed mileage logs for every city-owned vehicle.
The logs are supposed to be available for public inspection in the city clerk's office at the end of each month.
But a recent visit to the clerk's office to review the 2007 records turned up only partial documentation for a handful of vehicles.
And a public records request for all of this year's mileage logs, including those not yet sent to the clerk's office, showed only spotty compliance.
There are no records for roughly two-thirds of the city 's 128 non-police and fire vehicles - including the 2007 Mercury Montego driven by Mayor Michael T. Napolitano.
And there are only partial logs for most of the remaining one-third.
A review of logs from years past suggests the city has long fallen short on compliance with the ordinance.
Christine Lopes, executive director of Common Cause Rhode Island, a good-government group, said failure to keep accurate records at any level of government makes it more difficult for elected officials to conduct adequate oversight.
And poor record-keeping, she added, can make an already skeptical public even more suspicious of government.
"I think it definitely raises the eyebrows," Lopes said.
Ernest J. Carlucci, director of administration for Napolitano, said the city is reviewing its record-keeping procedures.
"We're going to address it," he said.
But he said the administration does not believe the mayor, the only official allowed private use of his municipal vehicle, should be required to keep a mileage log.
And he suggested that maintaining the logs for other vehicles is not a "front-burner" issue for city officials worried about more pressing concerns such as clearing snow and balancing the budget.
Carlucci unwittingly drew attention to employee use of municipal vehicles when a late-night accident in Lincoln in August revealed that he was using his city-issued Ford Explorer for personal reasons, in violation of the city code.
Carlucci, who said he drove the tan sport utility vehicle directly from City Hall to the Kirkbrae Country Club because he was running late for a meeting of its board of governors, has apologized for the incident.
And he said yesterday that he has kept careful track of his use of municipal vehicles all year and plans to add his records to the city mileage logs.
But there were no logs for the Ford Explorer in the records provided to the Journal in recent weeks.
Indeed, the list of missing and partial records is lengthy.
There are no logs that can be directly linked to any of the 42 vehicles assigned to the highway department, though there are partial records for 9 unspecified vehicles labeled "H1" through "H9" that are used by high-ranking members of the department.
Similarly, there are no records that can be directly linked to any of the 20 vehicles assigned to the Parks and Recreation Department, though there are detailed logs for 2 unspecified vehicles driven by Anthony J. Liberatore, director of the department, and Rodney Ryan, a foreman.
Records are scant for vehicles assigned to public works; meticulous for 5 senior services vehicles and non-existent for 13 others; and partial for the engineering, fleet maintenance, building maintenance and building inspections departments.
Carlucci said the spotty records are explained, in part, by a tradition of tracking small, supervisory cars that could easily be used for private jaunts and ignoring dump trucks and other large, easily spotted vehicles with City of Cranston seals on the doors.
But even records on file are flawed.
Some mileage logs do not include descriptions of the vehicles or license plate numbers to which they correspond.
Others have illegible signatures. And in the case of police vehicle records, the city may be providing more information than officers would like.
City officials blacked out license plate numbers for unmarked police vehicles in 2007 records they provided to The Journal.
But police records for the last several years on file with the city cClerk, and open to public inspection, include the plate numbers - posing a security risk for undercover officers.
City officials, informed about the police records yesterday, said they would remove the plate numbers from the spreadsheets in the city clerk's office before this article was published.
City Council members reached by the Journal yesterday said the administration needs to do a better job tracking mileage - starting with the mayor.
"The ordinance needs to be followed," said Jeffrey P. Barone, the lone Republican on the council. "If the chief executive of the city isn't following the ordinance, it needs to be addressed."
Joseph P. Cammarano, an associate professor of political science and public and community service at Providence College, said record-keeping ordinances meant to bring more transparency and accountability to government can sometimes backfire - placing undue burdens on busy officials and bringing them undue criticism when they fail to comply.
"We expect public officials to engage in what, maybe, can't be their top priority and, maybe, shouldn't be their top priority," he said.
But City Council President Aram G. Garabedian, a Democrat, said issues of transparency and accountability are not all that is at stake.
The failure to keep proper mileage logs makes it more difficult for the city to ensure it is not spending too much on gas and maintenance in tight times.
And the bottom line, if nothing else, may drive change, he suggested.
"The ordinance needs to be followed. If the chief executive of the city isn't following the ordinance, it needs to be addressed."Jeffrey P. Barone City Council member.
Date: 12/14/2007 12:00:00 AM
Office: Common Cause Rhode Island