City vehicle misused - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

City vehicle misused

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By Jennifer Emert - bio | email

ALBANY, GA (WALB) - An Albany city worker was reprimanded for using a city vehicle for private business.  City leaders say they won't tolerate abuses of the city's vehicle policy.

City engineering employee Keith Wingate admitted he drove a city vehicle to his private job sites but told officials he did it on his lunch hour.

It happened in 2002, but Wingate was reprimanded just last week after the violation came out in civil suit filed against him by a client of his business.

The policy was developed in 2006. The city reviewed it and updated it about a year ago so city resources and tax payer dollars wouldn't be wasted.

The rules to use a City of Albany vehicle are extensive. Spelled out in an 18-page document are the driver's responsibility on how to safely maintain the vehicle, eight different authorized uses for the vehicle and 12 unauthorized uses including using a vehicle for private business.

"They can't just use it for their own private use, particularly those take home vehicles in the off hours," aid Assistant City manager Wes Smith.

It's why some taxpayers say they'd like to see the city do away with the policy.

"Often you wind up using it for personal business rather than what it's intended for," said Citizen Mary An Bland.

"To operate these vehicles is expensive and it's coming out of the taxpayer's pocket and I think our elected officials need to tighten down in every way that they can,"  said Citizen James Ulm.

Tighten up they have, last year the city reviewed the policy and eliminated any take home vehicle that wasn't used for business more than eight times a month.

"Largely it was a result of the cost of fuel itself, but just because we felt we had cars out there that we shouldn't," said Smith.

It amounted to more than 20 city vehicles being parked. While the city has a policy for its fleet vehicles when it comes to public opinion and law enforcement their policy is a little different.

"I think it's a crime deterrent if a police car is sitting in a car in the neighborhood," said taxpayer Tony Hammack.

That's actually the goal of the Albany Police Department's policy for 120 take home vehicles, although only about half are actually taken home. If city officials suspect and officer or city employee is breaking the rules, they'll know.

"We do have I believe it's four GPS devices that we can randomly put on vehicles if we think someone may be doing something that's inappropriate and that way we can monitor the exact location of the car at all times," Smith said.

You might remember last year we uncovered the case of Travious Trent who was using his inspectors vehicle to make sexual advanced towards men along the city's Riverwalk. The city used a GPS tracking system in that case, but they say putting tracking equipment on the city's fleet of 800 vehicles for everyday use would be too costly.

The civil action threatened against Keith Wingate has not yet been formally filed with the Magistrate Court.

Assistant City Manager Wes Smith says Wingate hasn't used a city vehicle for more than a year.

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