By Beth David, Editor
At its meeting on 2/10/20, the Fairhaven Selectboard continued its discussion to create a policy for mileage and town vehicle use.
Town Administrator Mark Rees said he put together additional information, as requested, on which town employees had vehicles assigned to them, and which town employees were receiving mileage reimbursement for use of their personal vehicles.
Selectboard member Daniel Freitas had questioned why some town employees were being paid mileage when they had a town car assigned to them, and why at least one town employee had a travel/mileage allowance that seemed to paying him to commute to work.
He said the town is scheduled to get two electric vehicles next year, but he wants to make sure that they are needed and will be used. He said he already heard that one employee said he/she would not want to take an electric vehicle home because it would have to be charged up at night at the employee’s house.
Mr. Freitas said he discovered that a car assigned to the health agent sat unused at the senior center for so long that the tires when flat and the battery died.
He said he did not understand why the health agent was getting paid mileage when a car was available to her.
“I don’t know why this happened,” said Mr. Freitas.
“I don’t think the taxpayers should be paying for a car to sit there when we pay for miles,” said Mr. Freitas. “I’d like to get an answer to that. We have to get a handle on this.”
Mr. Rees tried to clarify if Mr. Freitas meant that employees should either have a car or get paid mileage, not both. But Mr. Freitas said he did not want to pay mileage because the town could be liable for accidents an employee had. He has not gotten any clarification on that.
The board discussed the specific wording of the policy, trying to nail down who would sign off on what.
Mr. Freitas said he wanted the Selectboard to have some say in who gets a car.
“I don’t know how the building inspector is given a car to drive home every day,” said Mr. Freitas, adding that the former inspector used to park his car at the fire station and pick it up if he got called in for an emergency.
Board member Bob Espindola said that the board is not involved in the day-to-day activities of employees. He said the Town Administrator should be able to take care of issues, and they should not have to wait for a Selectboard meeting.
“This happened under our administration,” said Mr. Freitas, adding that when they talked about the building inspector job, it should have been something they knew about.
Mr. Espindola said it was something they knew about, it was in the contract.
“Yes,” said Mr. Rees. “We offered the use of a vehicle.”
He said it was a public safety vehicle, that the building inspector needs to respond when there is an emergency, such as a fire, to make sure that buildings are safe.
Mr. Espindola noted that it was difficult to fill the position of building inspector, so they had to increase the salary and offered a car. He said if the vehicle is not being used, it was something that “fell through the cracks.” He said he had no problem with the Selectboard getting involved with a policy change.
Mr. Freitas said if they authorize a vehicle for someone to take home it should be “broadcast.”
Mr. Espindola said they just need the language in the policy. He said the phrasing was too broad a change, and there needed to be a way to do it without waiting for a Selectboard meeting.
Mr. Rees tried to clarify the difference between 24-hour use and commuting use. The fire and police chiefs would still have their vehicles with them at all times, for commuting and personal use, so they can respond 24 hours a day. Some public works employees would still have access to the vehicles 24 hours a day.
Mr. Espindola said they could have list and if there is a change suggested, then the board would be notified.
Mr. Rees said he would put together a procedure that will allow for the board to sign off on the policy annually, or if there are changes.
Selectboard Chairperson Charles K. Murphy, Sr., said they needed to add a category.
Mr. Freitas said he just did not want to be paying for “commuter vehicles.”
Mr. Espindola asked if Mr. Rees understood what was being asked of him about adding daily trip tickets, as suggested by Mr. Freitas, and Mr. Rees agreed that employees were using a public asset so there should be “internal controls,” to make sure it is not being abused.
Mr. Murphy agreed it was important, especially for taxpayers to see.
Mr. Freitas questioned Mr. Espindola, asking if he did not believe they should add daily trip tickets.
“No, I want to make sure he understands exactly what you’re asking we put in there so that we don’t come back and it’s not what you think it is,” said Mr. Espindola.
“I’d be glad to explain,” said Mr. Freitas. “I already did explain it. It’s very simple.”
“I understand,” said Mr. Espindola, as the two men talked over each other for a bit.
“I think if he has a problem he can say something to me,” Mr. Freitas said to Mr. Espindola. “And I don’t think you need to stick up for Mark. The problem is Mark has allowed this to go. And this is getting rampant now. And I want to find out why. And I have that right to ask. And I’m sorry Bob if you don’t like it.”
“No, Dan, I just asked if he understood it,” said Mr. Espindola. “I apologize if that offended you somehow. I did not mean that. So I think I’m ready to move on.”
“I’ll tell you what, Bob, Mark’s a big boy,” said Mr. Freitas.
“Yes, you already said that,” said Mr. Espindola.
“And he can say it,” said Mr. Freitas. “If he…I’m sure he’ll ask me.”
“So, we’re going to add to this vehicle us policy?” asked Mr. Murphy.
“Yes,” answered Mr. Rees.
“I want to make sure this is perfect so we don’t ever have to revisit this again,” said Mr. Freitas.
As they spoke over each other again, Mr. Freitas said, “Hold on, I would ask that you guys add to this too.”
“I’ve added my two cents, you add your two cents,” he said. “And we move on from there. Y’know, that’s the best I can tell you.”
Mr. Murphy said he would like to have a conversation with Mr. Rees about the commuting category, because he believed that was where the additional language needed to go.
Mr. Rees also verified that the policy had come from another community, although he could not remember which one. He said they looked at policies from several different communities.
Mr. Freitas also asked for clarification on which departments are bound by the policy.
The board will discuss the policy at a future meeting.
The board also discussed a travel policy, which would affect employees attending professional development conferences, workshops, panels, etc.
Mr. Rees told the board that if a department is governed by an elected board, such as the Board of Health overseeing the health agent, then that board would be the authority to sign off on travel and reimbursement. The TA would be the authority for all departments reporting to him.
Mr. Freitas said he wanted to make sure that employees were not traveling out of state for trainings that they could attend in Massachusetts or take online
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