Rhodes questions staff car rentals
By Mike Rutledge, Post staff reporter
Hamilton County employees have used taxpayer-rented vehicles to
drive hundreds of miles on their own time while attending out-of-town
conventions, county Auditor Dusty Rhodes says in a report released Tuesday.
He urges county commissioners to review county travel policies.
Rhodes said that while the rental-car use was not illegal, ''the
documentation and (the employees') responses show a rather liberal
interpretation by these elected officials and employees with respect to
what constitutes 'business use' of rental cars.''
In some cases, cars were rented even when the conference was held
in the same hotel where the employees were staying, Rhodes found. Some
employees responded, however, that rental vehicles can be a necessity
even in that circumstance - depending on the city, the availability
of taxis, and proximity of the hotel to restaurants and the major airport.
Commission President Bob Bedinghaus had not seen Rhodes' report
Tuesday, his secretary said.
Rhodes, whose office several years ago was part of a committee that
created the current travel policy, has urged the county commissioners
to revisit that policy with another such panel.
His report lists these examples:
County Health Commissioner Timothy Ingram, attending a
1998 National Environmental Health Association education conference in
Las Vegas, arrived four days before its start and rented a car on which
he put 1,132 miles over 11 days. He was charged $415.34 and requested
$207.66 reimbursement for six of those days. He stayed at the conference
location. Ingram was unavailable to comment Tuesday afternoon.
R. Joseph Gunterman, the county's training and
development manager, had approval to attend a March 24-27, 1998,
conference in Chicago. He rented a car upon arrival and ran up 701
miles traveling to Sturgeon Bay in Door County, Wisc., to discuss
with a workplace-violence program with a colleague. He returned the
car March 25, the day auditors say conference sessions began.
Gunterman's boss, county Personnel Director James Lowry, said
Gunterman had told him before the trip he might travel to Wisconsin
to discuss the program because Hamilton County was investigating
beginning its own workplace-violence program.
''He's a manager-level here,'' Lowry said of Gunterman. ''His
record is impeccable, and I would stand it up against anybody's,
including Dusty Rhodes.' ''
When John Baron, Robert Lodge and Arnold Weathers
from the River City Correctional Institution attended an American
Correctional Association gathering in Denver last Aug. 8-12 with
Common Pleas Administrator Michael Walton, Baron's car racked up
4,067 miles. Auditors confirmed that mileage figure with the rental
company but still believe that figure is incorrect. ''I would
have had to drive from Denver to Cincinnati twice in the time I was
out there,'' said Baron, who said the mileage was definitely wrong.
As with many county rentals, the vehicle agreement was for unlimited
mileage. Walton also rented a car and drove 468 miles. Rhodes'
report questioned why two vehicles were necessary for four men -
especially when a ''shuttle service from the airport to the hotel
was available at a small charge.'' Walton said cars are needed
when restaurants are far from the hotel: ''Are you going to be held
prisoner or captive in your hotel during the time you're there?''
Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes told county commissioners
Tuesday he would like to see these travel guidelines in place for
justification for vehicle rental.
rental when employee's hotel is conference site.
or shuttle fares separate from employees'
$40-per-day meal expenses.
''should never be approved by
employees reporting to the person making such claims.''
Publication date: 04-05-00
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