July 11, 2008

What budget crisis?

What is ironic is on the same day the new (appointed not elected) OC Sheriff just gave up some perks LA Times posts the story below on county vehicles being doled out like candy. As noted in today LA Times: "Further distancing herself from the practices of her indicted predecessor, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens said she wouldn't use a team of deputies to protect her -- or even a driver to chauffeur her to public appearances. Acting against the advice of some colleagues, Hutchens said she intended to drive herself to meetings in a county car, her only protection the Glock 9-millimeter handgun holstered at her waist."

But not here in good ol' LA county. We waste tax dollars just like they were water (come to think of it we waste water too) What do you think the gas bill is for these gas guzzlers that the taxpayers are also paying? Where is it written that people in government should get free cars, gas and chauffeurs? Did I miss that line in the state constitution? Oh wait, they use the line in the constitution that says "once elected you can do what you want as long as too many of the 'little people' (to quote Leona Helmsley) don't revolt"

I say dump 50% of the county cars. All should be 4 cylinder or natural gas. No freebies for elected officials period. None. Most of those elected "officials" (aka royalty) are millionaires before they get elected anyway.

The Grand Jury report on this issue is available here (the part about vehicle use starts on page 89 of the report)

County officials reaping unintended benefits from vehicles
By Troy Anderson, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/10/2008 09:38:08 PM PDT

At a time when many Los Angeles County residents are grappling with the squeeze of an economic downturn, dozens of top county government officials are tooling around in "unjustified luxury vehicles" costing taxpayers as much as $50,000 each.

More than 1,400 county workers are given take-home cars, even though some don't have official authorization to drive them, and at least 30 employees aren't paying the required taxes on the vehicles.

Meanwhile, county employees were involved in 1,852 accidents in their take-home vehicles over the past few years - with 830 accidents in 2005-06 alone that cost taxpayers $6.7 million.

The findings are among hundreds outlined in a recently released Grand Jury report that uncovered broad department inconsistencies and lax oversight of the county's $433 million, 12,780-vehicle fleet.

"I think this certainly demonstrates that the county has a long way to go to convince taxpayers that it has a revenue problem and not a spending problem," said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

"Its chronic problems with mismanagement of its vehicle fleet is particularly frustrating given that those perks are something that most county taxpayers will never see in their own jobs."

Chief Executive Officer Bill Fujioka said Wednesday that his staff is still reviewing the Grand Jury's findings and will address all problems and issues that have been identified.

"We are meeting with the CEO next week to go over all the recommendations by the Grand Jury and then we'll develop a response to those recommendations," Auditor-Controller Wendy Watanabe said.

In the report, jurors identified 51 "unjustified luxury vehicles" costing more than $30,000 each that could be considered "excessive for routine county business."

Twenty of those vehicles were being used by employees in the county's health department, eight among the Board of Supervisors, seven in the public works department, three for librarians and 13 in other departments.

Jurors wrote that they also received information that some county departments were purchasing luxury sedans and high-end sports-utility vehicles for top executives.

"A review of departmental vehicle inventories indicates that some departments have purchased luxury vehicles for the department director or other senior managers," jurors wrote.

"Without clear direction from the Board of Supervisors, departments do not have a strong incentive to purchase vehicles that more closely meet the business needs of the departments and are priced at a lower cost."

Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich, Don Knabe, Gloria Molina, Zev Yaroslavsky and Yvonne Burke could not be reached Thursday for comment.

But a spokesman for Antonovich said the board is still reviewing the findings.

"Yes, we are reviewing and we will look at the report and act accordingly, once we've had a chance to review it in its entirety," said spokesman Tony Bell.

The most expensive vehicle identified in the report was a 2007 Acura MDX worth $49,511 that is the take-home vehicle used by Assessor Rick Auerbach.

Auerbach said he paid $10,511 of his own money for the vehicle to help offset its cost, and also uses his monthly vehicle allowance, plus $50, to pay for the vehicle.

"I looked for a car that was the safest, best car I could get that would meet the requirements of what I use it for," Auerbach said.

"I drive approximately 25,000 miles a year throughout the county. I don't have a driver. I spend a lot of time on the road. So I looked for the car that would best meet my needs, realizing I'm driving a lot and it's been written up as a very, very safe vehicle."

Other expensive vehicles included Antonovich's 2007 Cadillac DTS at $31,663, a 2003 Lincoln LS costing $48,192 and a 2007 Toyota Highlander hybrid SUV costing $38,322.

But Bell, Antonovich's spokesman, said the jurors failed to note that Antonovich's car is among the cheapest driven by the five supervisors.

"It was purchased used with 12,000 miles on it and he pays a portion of the monthly costs," Bell said. "We're operating on the premise this is an expensive car. The audit is flawed. It's obviously not compared to the costs of the other cars."

According to information from the Board of Supervisors' Executive Office, Knabe drives a 2008 Hybrid Chevy Tahoe that costs $57,134, while Burke drives a 2006 Chrysler 300 that cost $37,854 and Molina drives a 2007 Buick Lucerne that cost $32,409.

Yaroslavsky drives a 2000 Buick Park Avenue, Internal Services Department fleet car.

Jurors found the county's largest departments have 1,471 take-home vehicles, including 75 for deputies and other employees of the Board of Supervisors.

While many of the take-home vehicles are for employees who may need to respond to an emergency after normal work hours, others are a benefit as part of an employee's compensation package.

Generally, senior department managers are given county vehicles for personal use to drive home and to work.

But jurors wrote some departments have inconsistent take-home vehicle policies, which also places the vehicles at heightened risk of abuse or theft.

"Without formal justification, some take-home privileges may not be appropriate since there is minimal review and oversight to ensure adequate business need," jurors wrote.


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