The Baldwin County Commission voted recently to seek an opinion from the Alabama Attorney General’s office and the Alabama Ethics Commission on the personal use of county vehicles by commissioners, officers and employees.
“According to the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, if an employee uses a vehicle for personal use it should be stated in the County policy,” the agenda for the Feb. 5 meeting states. “The current [Baldwin] County policy states individuals who are issued a county car shall not use the assigned vehicle for personal use.”
“It’s a request for an advisory opinion regarding the use of county vehicles by county commissioners and officials and employees,” County Administrator Ron Cink said.
County Attorney David Conner said both state entities have ruled in the past that local government employees can use work vehicles for personal use under certain conditions. The request is to make sure those past decisions still stand.
“Those opinions said if it is done by regulation, law or agreement and approved by the governmental agency, then it would be OK as long as it was incidental,” Conner said. “In our case, the present policy has prohibited the personal use of vehicles by employees altogether so we haven’t allowed that type of use. But in certain instances, there are certain employees and the county itself would benefit from being able to relax that rule.”
Baldwin County will consider changing its policy after hearing back from the attorney general and the Ethics Commission. The unanimous 4-0 vote authorized Conner to draft a letter to both state entities seeking advice on several points of the personal-use questions. His letter was presented to the commission during the meeting.
Conner’s letter asks three basic questions, with the first two concerning commissioners and other officers. Are they allowed to use county-owned and assigned vehicles to stop at their personal business offices or property to take care of personal business while traveling on county business? Can they travel to and from their residence as long as the stops and/or office visits are either on the general route or require only minimal deviation from the route?
“Due to time constraints and the requirements of their official duties, it is sometimes necessary for commissioners to take care of personal business while traveling on official business as opposed to returning home to obtain a personal vehicle,” Conner’s letter states. “Additionally, there are other county officers/employees who are assigned a county-owned vehicle to perform their official duties and it would minimize travel time and lost productivity if those officials and employees could use such vehicles to make interim personal stops to tend to personal business.”
The third question concerns whether employees who are required to travel to different areas around Baldwin County could be authorized to drive county-owned vehicles to their homes when they must travel to areas of the county that are away from their assigned office.
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