Of approximately 1,200 cars assigned to city employees, only 54 percent of the total mileage reported was work-related. And the yearly tab for those cars and hundreds of others is considerable -- the maintenance and fuel costs for the take-home cars cost Houston taxpayers $4 million last year.Granted, $4 million isn't much in the grand scheme of the city's budget. But if the city can spend $4 million on take-home cars, it makes one wonder where else our money is being wasted.
While Ma Parker is vowing to crack down on the practice, city employees are justifying their free ride. Fire Department Assistant Chief Daniel Snell for example, told the paper:
The job I have requires me to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on and off duty. I have a lot of off-duty activities, meeting and things after hours.Snell, who has a 52 mile commute to his office, reported that only 11.9 percent of the miles he drives are work related. Which means, taxpayers are paying for his commute and probably a whole lot more. Further, city policy holds that employees must live within 30 miles of their office to be eligible for a take-home car. Snell is not the only employee in violation of this policy--the paper reports 44 employees with take-home cars live outside of the 30-mile limit.
The paper reports that the Public Works Department, which has 560 cars, has at least 10 employees whose business use mileage was reported at less than 15 percent. And three had negative percentages, which the city called a "reporting problem." It is bad enough that the city won't enforce its own policies, but when we consider the nature of the positions held by many of those with take-home cars, the insult is even worse.
It is the Public Works Department that is responsible for such things as issuing occupancy permits. When my office was inspected a few months ago, 6 employees of the department arrived in separate vehicles. Their purpose in the visit was to enforce a city ordinance. In other words, while the city has no problems turning a blind eye to violations of its own policies, it won't hesitate to harass citizens. At least I now know where the money I paid for the inspection is going--to allow some city employee to drive to work for free.