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City Cars For Elected Officials — Part 1

June 2, 2015 Board of Aldermen, Featured, Politics/Policy 9 Comments

A recent item in the Post-Dispatch las caused a lot of online debate:

Carpenter’s budgetary concern comes as she seeks a new city vehicle or a $700 monthly vehicle allowance. In her previous term as collector, she had a city car. She turned it in after leaving office.

In March, Carpenter wrote a letter to the city’s capital committee asking for authorization to purchase “a new vehicle for my use.”

“As I understand it,” Carpenter wrote, “The License Collector receives $700.00 per month for auto expense in lieu of a vehicle. This would be amenable for me.”

Carpenter, 73, is also requesting the $700 monthly vehicle expense retroactive to January.

Paul Payne, the city’s budget director, said Carpenter will get a car. (St. Louis recorder of deeds to get new city car, lays off one person)

Really!?!

Carpenter drove a city-issued Buick Lucerne before she resigned. Was this it?
Carpenter drove a city-issued Buick Lucerne before she resigned. Was this it?
This Buick Lucerne isn't on the city's most recent assignment list.  The Buick Lucerne was sold in the 2006-2011 model years, click image for the Wikipedia article.
This Buick Lucerne isn’t on the city’s most recent assignment list.
The Buick Lucerne was sold in the 2006-2011 model years, click image for the Wikipedia article.

The $4,200/mo pension and $97,000 annual salary isn’t enough? As many said, why does the Recorder of Deeds need a city car? For that matter, why does the License Collector?

Autotrader has an article on 7 Great Luxury Sedans You Can Lease for $500 per Month:

  1. Acura RLX
  2. BMW 528i
  3. Cadillac CTS
  4. Hyundai Genesis
  5. Jaguar XF
  6. Lexus GS 350
  7. Volvo S60 T6

Ok, these lease deals don’t include insurance and require a down payment. Still, a new BMW 528i, for example, starts at $49,950.

I began wondering where it was authorized that elected officials would get cars, or a hefty allowance. I made some inquiries and was directed to an ordinance, the following quotes are from St. Louis City Ordinance 68716 from 2010.

First an exemption for personal licensing or use:

4.13.020 Personal licensing or use–Exemptions.

The prohibitions on the use of Missouri state license plates contained in Section 4.13.010 shall not apply to passenger automobiles assigned to and used by officials or employees of the Metropolitan St. Louis Police Department. The following passenger automobiles are exempted from the prohibitions on the use of Missouri state license plates contained in

Section 4.13.010:

A. One automobile assigned to the mayor of the city for his personal use;

B. One automobile assigned to the comptroller of the city for his personal use;

C. One automobile assigned to the president of the board of aldermen for his personal use; and

D. Such other automobiles as may be specifically designated by the board of aldermen by resolution upon the recommendation of the board of estimate and apportionment.

Any such resolution shall clearly identify the automobile or automobiles for which Missouri state license plates are sought, the person or persons who will use such automobile or automobiles and the conditions of such use and shall justify the need for Missouri state license plates for each such automobile.

So the above means the three listed in A-C, and any added via resolution in D, can be used personally and may have a regular “Missouri” rather than “City of St. Louis” license plate. One other exemption:

4.13.040 Identification of city automobiles–Exemptions.

The requirement of the clear identification of city-owned automobiles contained in Section 4.13.030 shall not apply to passenger automobiles assigned to and used by officials or employees of the Metropolitan St. Louis Police Department. The following passenger automobiles are exempted from the requirement of clear identification of city-owned automobiles contained in Section 4.13.030:

A. One automobile assigned to the mayor of the city for his personal use;

B. One automobile assigned to the comptroller of the city for his personal use;

C. One automobile assigned to the president of the board of aldermen of the city for his personal use; and

D. Such other automobiles as may be specifically designated by the board of aldermen by resolution upon the recommendation of the board of estimate and apportionment.

Any such resolution shall clearly identify the automobile or automobiles for which an exemption from this requirement is sought, the person or persons who will use such automobile or automobiles and the conditions of such use and shall justify the need for the requested exemption.

The same three are exempt from being identified as City of St. Louis vehicles, plus any added by resolution, don’t need to have “City of St. Louis” in letters on the side of the vehicle.

One more quote:

Section 4.13.050 Use of City Motor Vehicles

No official or employee of the City shall possess or use any motor vehicle owned or leased by the City except for those officials or employees who are specifically designated by resolution of the Board of Aldermen, upon the recommendation of the Board of Estimate and Apportionment. Any such resolution shall clearly identify the person who will use such motor vehicle, their title, their job classification, the conditions of such use, and shall justify the need for such use.

So I found Resolution 259, adopted in December 2010. Here’s a quote:

WHEREAS, Ordinance 68716 requires that the Board of Aldermen approve a resolution adopting the City of St. Louis Vehicle Policy Manual (herein attached as Exhibit A) the following, which includes possession and use of City motor vehicles and reimbursement for personal motor vehicle usage; and

WHEREAS, ordinance 68716 further requires that the Board of Aldermen approve possession and use of City motor vehicles and reimbursement for personal motor vehicle usage, by title/job classification and nature and conditions of use (list attached as Evhibit B).”

Unfortunately the library has neither attachment. I contacted board clerk David Sweeney who located it and sent me a scanned copy.

Turns out Attachment B isn’t a list of any specific elected offices that get cars, as I expected. It was just a spreadsheet with people and the cars they were assigned. I reviewed the 2010 list and found only two elected officials:

  • Comptroller Darlene Green: 2009 Mercury Grand Marquis
  • Recorder of Deeds Sharon Carpenter: 2007 Buick Lucerne

The Vehicle Policy and most recent Assignment Survey are online here. maintains The current list is for FY2014, as of 10/14/2013 — long before Carpenter resigned last summer to avoid charges of nepotism. The only elected official on the list is Comptroller Darlene Green with the same 2009 Mercury.  The webpage notes:

This survey is conducted in accordance with paragraph 3.1 of the City Vehicle Policy. Vehicle listings and employee assignments are as of July-August of each year when appointing authorities complete the survey.  The new version is posted after acceptance by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment on or about October 1st and provision to the Board of Aldermen.

The Board of Estimate and Apportionment (aka E&A) is comprised of the Mayor, Comptroller, & President of the Board of Aldermen.

Ok, let’s dig into the Vehicle Policy to see if that sheds any light:

2.2. Specifications/Options

2.2.1. Individually Assigned

2.2.1.1. Elected Officials are typically provided new, well-equipped, full-sized sedans or advanced technology vehicles. These vehicles may include luxury packages and options at the discretion of the elected official.

2.2.1.2. Appointed Officials who require a vehicle to complete their duties are typically provided a mid-sized sedan or sport utility vehicle dependent upon job requirements. These vehicles are typically equipped with power windows and locks, tilt steering wheels and air conditioning. Luxury packages and options such as leather seats, automatic climate control systems, navigation systems and upgraded sound systems are prohibited even as part of an emergency purchase.

2.2.1.3. Civil Service employees are typically provided sedans, pickup trucks, vans or sport utility vehicles appropriate to the nature of their duties. New vehicles may be equipped with air conditioning, power windows and locks and tilt steering wheel for improved health and safety when necessary.

Ok, but which elected officials get cars? All of them? All 28 Aldermen?

3.3. Vehicle Allowance Criteria

  • 3.3.1.  Employees required to drive daily on official business but who are not assigned a City vehicle because one is not available shall keep a mileage log. Employees must also file a mileage reimbursement form on a monthly basis thru the accounts payable section in their Department.
  • 3.3.2.  In conjunction with the Budget Division the automobile allowance shall be established by the Comptroller annually in January for the next fiscal year. It shall be based on the IRS regulation, but not necessarily set at that rate.
  • 3.3.3.  Employees receiving the automobile allowance must sign a declaration annually that they possess a valid driver’s license, their vehicle is maintained in safe operating condition at all times and that they have the following minimum insurance coverage: $25,000 coverage bodily injury per person, $50,000 coverage bodily injury per occurrence and $10,000 coverage property damage or at the minimum levels required by State statute, whichever is greater.
  • 3.3.4.  Employees paid the automobile allowance may not use a City vehicle unless approved as part of a formal trip authorization.
  • 3.3.5.  Each year prior to October 1, the Comptroller will supply a report to the Board of Estimate and Apportionment and the Board of Alderman detailing payments made listing the employee’s name and payment history for the previous fiscal year.

Now that I’ve gotten the background out of the way, the next part will get into more specifics. I hope get answers to the following questions:

  1. Which elected officials, if any, currently have city vehicles? What kind? Are they issued a 1099?
  2. Which elected officials, if any, currently receive a car allowance? How much? Are they issued a 1099?
  3. Who has city gas cards? What measures are in place to ensure these aren’t used to refill personal vehicles?
  4. Why isn’t the Buick Lucerne used by the Board of Elections listed on the most recent assignment sheet?

A 1099 you ask? Yes, vehicles for personal use are taxable income that must be reported to the IRS! See fringe benefits communing rule.

I have a feeling the deeper I dig into city vehicles and their oversight I’m going to find a lot that many would like to keep hidden in the trunk.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

Currently there are "9 comments" on this Article:

  1. the pants man says:

    atta way steve, i think this is a very good topic for you to dive into. ill be very interested to see what you discover.

     
  2. brian says:

    It should be pointed out that Carpenter is the only person receiving a pension at city hall for former service in the city. Several Aldermen and a few members of the Mayor’s staff are receiving a pension from the city.

    I don’t fault any of them. If any decided to stop receiving their pension, they would forfeit any right to collect that pension in the future. Until the law is changed so they wouldn’t forfeit their pension in the future, I think it is completely unfair to criticise them for receiving one.

     
    • JZ71 says:

      “is not”, not “is the only person” . . .

      Bottom line, it’s a part of their compensation package, if they get to use it outside of “work”, especially for commuting. Where I have concerns is with a $700 a month allowance; $400 seems like a much more reasonable number. The citizens should pay to move your butt; the citizens should not pay to move it on rich Corinthian leather . . . That said, props to the Comptroller for “still” driving a 6-year-old car. The other “bottom line” is that what we end up “overspending” on vehicles for a dozen or so top officials is a very miniscule part of the city’s billion-dollar budget. We spend (and waste) far more on other, less-easy-to-get-outraged-over, things (like our catch-and-release criminal “justice” system) that have a far bigger impact on the city’s bottom line and quality of life.

       
      • Why should we pay for them to drive to city hall?

         
        • Mark-AL says:

          …because it’s in their “contract”.! Those STL residents who don’t agree should rally and work to change the “contract”. Good luck with that!

           
        • Mark-AL says:

          See how those democrats love one another?

           
        • JZ71 says:

          It’s part of their total compensation package. Why should we also pay for health insurance, vacation or pension costs? Why should we pay them some arbitrary salary? Just let them work for tips from satisfied constituents! Like Mark says, get a group together and work to change the part(s) that you find to be excessive, unnecessary or unfair . . .

           
  3. David says:

    Doesn’t the governor make appointments to the Board of Elections? If so, would this car be part of the city budget?

     
  4. neroden says:

    What the heck is the License Collector?

    I understand why, for example, code enforcement officers and assessors have city cars or car allowances — they have to do lots of site visits as part of their job.

     

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