Council spars over city vehicle use

Published 9:54 am Wednesday, September 29, 2010

FRANKLIN—After a heated discussion, the City Council voted 5-2 to approve a rule governing the use of city vehicles by council members.

Councilman Greg McLemore said he was the only council member who had used a city vehicle and labeled the policy “a typical harassment tactic.” McLemore and Councilman Don Blythe cast the dissenting votes.

The motion, offered by Councilman Barry Cheatham, allows council members to drive city vehicles only for “city business,” like attending an out-of-town board or committee meeting.

All other uses of city vehicles by council members must be approved by the City Council except for the mayor or his designee representing the city in state matters.

Cheatham said he offered the motion to simply “formalize an earlier understanding on the use of city vehicles.”

Blythe said he didn’t think the policy was necessary.

“City business is city business any way you look at it,” he said.

McLemore said he recently used a city vehicle to travel to a Hampton Roads Planning District Commission meeting, Delegate Roslyn Tyler’s office and to a tour of solar homes organized by the Hampton Roads Green Building Council.

Cheatham said the policy wasn’t aimed specifically at McLemore.

“It is just to keep us informed ahead of time,” Cheatham said. “It has nothing to do with you. It has to do with everybody on City Council.”

McLemore said the citizens could end up losing out because there may not be enough time to come to council for approval before an event. McLemore said he only found out about the solar tour two days before, and wouldn’t have been able to get approval.

The tour, McLemore said, allowed him to research and make connections for his Virginia Solar City Initiative, which he said would bring jobs and tourism to Franklin by making it America’s first totally solar-powered city.

“I don’t feel like I need to run y’all down when all you’re going to do is push it off the same way you did when I first brought this presentation to you,” he said.

In response to the solar tour situation, Cheatham said there are exceptions to any rule. Vice Mayor Raystine Johnson said the use of a city vehicle to attend the solar tour should face council approval because it isn’t city business at this point.

“I don’t see it as stifling; I see it as us knowing because we have to assume the liabilities,” she said.

Mayor Jim Councill expressed some concern about how to define city business, but ultimately voted to approve the policy.

“I hope we can have the confidence and the discretion to do it honorably and not abuse the process,” he said.