Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Finkbeiner breaking the law?

According to an Attorney General Opinion, #2006-048, a "county sheriff and deputy sheriffs are prohibited from using county law enforcement vehicles to run personal errands, or otherwise using county vehicles for their personal use and benefit."

The opinion states:

"This conclusion is consistent with common law principles prohibiting county sheriffs and other public servants from using the resources of their public office for personal gain or benefit." (emphasis added)

How, then, can it not be a violation of law for the Mayor of the City of Toledo to use city employees to walk his dog and take said dog on 'potty breaks'?

Such a task is certainly not relevant to the operation of the city and, since they are doing this during normal working hours, it's clear that they are being paid with city funds for performing this 'duty.' Additionally, it is a personal benefit to the mayor who is relieved of having to perform such a task.

Further, the Ohio Ethics Commission, in an advisory opinion #96-004, said:

"A public official’s or employee’s duty is to the exercise of the public trust by performing the tasks assigned to him by the public agency with which he serves. Advisory Op. No. 89-010. A public agency provides resources to its officials and employees for the performance of these tasks and not for the official's or employee's personal financial gain or benefit."

Not being an attorney, I do not know if utilizing city employees to walk your dog constitutes a 'personal financial gain or benefit.' However, one could speculate that the use of public employees eliminates the need for the mayor to hire someone to perform these tasks, thus resulting in a financial gain.

And then there is the issue of the mayor using his city vehicle to go to the doctor's office, which is clearly not a city purpose. Following the 2003 incident of former County Treasurer Ray Kest's DUI conviction while in a county-owned car, the City of Toledo modified their vehicle use policy.

However, according to this Blade article, Clerk of Council "Mr. Dendinger said the mayor is viewed differently than other city employees because he is not taxed for taking a city vehicle home overnight.

Mr. Dendinger said Mr. Finkbeiner is assigned a vehicle for use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is not violating any laws by driving the car around Toledo for personal use."


Is this still another instance of 'do as I say, not as I do'? And where's an auditor or attorney general when you need one?

16 comments:

Greenracks said...

During all the years I worked for the U.S. Postal Service we were repeatedly told "if you're not sure, don't do it". I remember one time I saw something that a customer was doing, and took the time to send him a note (on my own time). He sent me a $10 gift certificate, and I sent it back with a note thanking him, but telling him that I didn't believe that I was permitted to take remuneration for 'doing my job'. I remember one fellow who was fired because he finagled giving an old postal jeep to a Cathlic diocese, and it was decided that he was showing 'favoritism'. So I learned to take such matters seriously, Carty should to.

Chad said...

Boy Maggie...lot on your mind today eh?;-)

Very interesting how you worked that out. makes sense to me. But then, I continue to hold my opinion of Hizznor...By By Black Sheep.

Maggie Thurber said...

lol ... Chad...

Guess I could have done a 'random thoughts' and lumped some of these into a single post...but I posted as they came up...

Oh well...

As for this one, I just don't understand why no one's made an issue of using city staff to walk a dog...it's like no one wants to say that the emporer has no clothes...

Chad said...

Prozac should be handed out by the Guards at the front desk in 1 gov...they are all out of their minds.

Brian Maxson said...

I'm thinking at one time Scout's "public's perception" on the presence within Jackson St was just limited to the 22nd floor, but with these antics being brought into the light, I'm thinking "fuel for the fire".

Altho I'm not a conspiracy therorist, I'm sensing more to this episode than meets the eye.

Chad said...

I gather "ryan" asks to do it..lol..to keep away from the floor..ha.

-Sepp said...

Maggie, Carty is a democrat...a lucas county democrat at that. "Breaking the law" for them is defined as being caught. However, twisting the law into a pretzle and violating the spirit of what the law means in common language is perfectly fine...as long as nobody goes into speciffics!

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

"Is this still another instance of 'do as I say, not as I do'? And where's an auditor or attorney general when you need one?"

Psst! (They're pumping intoxicants into the air on 22.)

Everybody (except "his dishonor) is so very "Stepford" up there. . .

Brian said...

Yes, this is a another do as I say not as I do situation from our father the Mayor. I am a retired Deputy Sheriff and Chief of Police. At this point Carty is all for himself. I hate to see into the future but its only going to get worse. Don't look to the State Atty. General to save us, I am sure they are watching their caller ID for Carty's number to come up, so they let it go to voice mail.

Kurt said...

Maggie,

I'm not going to give an opinion on this, but I have a few questions. Is the mayor's car a perk like an executive of a company might get a company car? Is there any marking on his car that indicates it to be a city vehicle? Has city council approved a car allowance for the mayor? If no car allowance, has city council approved giving the mayor a car for personal use as a perk?

Maggie Thurber said...

Kurt - there's nothing in the charter to say that the mayor gets a car...so it can be a perk similar to an executive, but it's not required. The mayor could decline the option of having a city car.

The only indication that the car is a city vehicle is its license plate which, being a 'city' plate, is different from the regular ones you and I may have. It's white with red numbers and says "city" on it.

I didn't check whether or not city council has passed any ordinance about the mayor's vehicle. However, there is nothing in the charter about a 'vehicle allowance' for the mayor.

County officials are governed by state law when it comes to vehicles. City officials are governed by their city charter.

The city has a vehicle use policy, but the Clerk of Council said it doesn't apply to Carty. He also said that Carty dosen't get a tax statement on the value of the vehicle (this seems odd to me that he is somehow excluded from that, but I'm not a tax expert).

Here's the issue - if the city has a vehicle use policy for everyone but the mayor, do they have one just for the mayor? Dendinger said that if the mayor used his city car to go on vacation, it might be a little much...well, how would that be determined? And who is responsible for making such a determination - the mayor? council? the clerk? or us?

If the city wants to give him a vehicle for unlimited use, then they should have something that explains this. They can't say it's okay for him to use the vehicle for transportation to doctor's appointments after hours, but it isn't okay to use it to meet with the state party chairman (he is the highest ranking democrat in the city).

And just because council or the mayor think this is okay, it doesn't mean that the public approves.

Hope this answers your questions. :)


p.s. Just because he doesn't get a tax slip for the car doesn't mean that he doesn't have to claim that as part of his tax filings. When I became a commissioner, I declined a county car. For me, it was a better tax advantage to keep track of my work mileage and claim it as an unreimbursed business expense. I'm sure that it's less costly to the city for the mayor to have a vehicle than it is to pay him mileage if he used his own car...however, the city would save even more if he used his own car, didn't ask for mileage and then just claimed it on his taxes. While that might be better for the taxpayers, it might not be better for the mayor - and I'm not interested in seeing his tax forms in order to make such a determination.

Hooda Thunkit said...

Maggie,

Although it may have already been thoroughly beaten to death:

Re: ”...Clerk of Council "Mr. Dendinger said the mayor is viewed differently than other city employees because he is not taxed for taking a city vehicle home overnight.

Mr. Dendinger said Mr. Finkbeiner is assigned a vehicle for use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is not violating any laws by driving the car around Toledo for personal use."



The Federal IRS laws are very clear about the personal use of a government owned vehicle.

If you drive it for personal use, you must log the personal use mileage and pay taxes on it.., Period.

This, to me means that, If “his dishonor” is not paying taxes on/for the personal use of “his” (our) car, then he is clearly in violation of the Federal Tax laws.

Further, I wonder what an audit of “his dishonor’s” past tax returns would also show up?

;-)

Maggie Thurber said...

I love the internet...someone always has an answer...

thanks, Hooda...I thought there was something along those lines in the federal tax code - but as I just recorded my work miles, I didn't know the specifics.

I wonder if his record of 'personal miles' on a city-owned vehicle is a public record??? I guess that would depend upon whether or not the information was needed/requested to be kept by the public entity... hmmm...

Frank said...

Why should the mayor (or any other public official) have a personal car for busniess? I mean, with the amount of money that they make, it should be pretty easy for them to own their own car. Correct me if I am wrong, but don't we also pay for the gas that they use? As well as the upkeep for their vehicle?
I wonder how much money we would save if they used their cars and paid for everything out of their own pockets?
Just something to ponder

Maggie Thurber said...

Frank - I agree completely! I don't think that any elected official needs a vehicle unless it's a specialized type of vehicle for special purpose. The Sheriff always had a marked car and an unmarked one - I understand the special equipment he'd keep in a vehicle that might justify the use of one - but certainly not 2!

p.s. I don't know whether the city pays for this gas, but they certainly pay for the maintenance.

Neighborhood Concerns said...

I asked two city councilors about Council Clerk Dendinger's comment in The Blade.

Councilman McNamara and City Council President Ludeman both stated that Mr. Dendinger's comments should not be taken as the administrations policy in this case.

It was put to me that a Blade reporter may have heard Mr. Dendinger make the comment and when I asked Mr. Dendinger, repeatedly, to clarify the comment he told me that there is no policy in place that limits the Mayor's use of the city leased vehicle.

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