FAIRHOPE — A Baldwin employee using a county vehicle during work hours must now drive back to get their own cars if they need to take care of personal items during the day, even if that …
FAIRHOPE — A Baldwin employee using a county vehicle during work hours must now drive back to get their own cars if they need to take care of personal items during the day, even if that personal car is 50 miles away according to county policy.
Baldwin County commissioners are looking at changes that could allow some officials and staffers more flexible uses of county vehicles. Commissioners and some department heads are allowed to take county vehicles home since they might be called out during emergencies. Current rules, however, allow those vehicles to only be used on county business.
During a commission work session in Fairhope on Monday, Aug. 15, officials said regulations should allow the county to change rules for vehicle use.
Commission Chairman Jeb Ball said those regulations are not always practical for employees.
"I'm not saying do whatever you want to, but you know some of the scenarios that I have thrown up to you. It's simple stuff that does not cross the threshold of anything that is out of the ordinary with county vehicles," Ball said. "For instance, if we're here today and for some reason one of us is driving a county car and all of the sudden one of us needs to go to a doctor for some reason, there's no reason for me to drive a car to Bay Minette to go back to go to a doctor in Fairhope. That's the kind of stuff I'm talking about."
Brad Hicks, county attorney, said a legal opinion from the Alabama Attorney General's Office stated that Baldwin County can change its vehicle policy.
"It essentially confirmed that the county can set its own policy as far as how county vehicles are used, take home, used for things outside of official business, that sort of thing," Hicks said.
"There are certainly some boundaries that you have to stay in, but you do have room to make the policy as you see fit."
Ron Cink, acting county administrator, said the opinion establishes that changing the policy fits state ethical and legal requirements. The other issue is insurance.
"We looked at this from two angles. One is the ethics angle. The other is the insurance angle. It looks like we solved the ethics angle," Cink said. "I'm not seeing a lot on the insurance angle as well. It pretty well lets you write the policy however you wish."
Commissioner Billie Jo Underwood said only people on county business would be in the vehicles.
"I think we know what is not right and what is OK," Underwood said. "On the insurance thing it is who can ride with you and who cannot ride with you. I think we've talked about, for example, if a citizen needed to ride with you to go look at a mud hole half a mile down the road or something like that."
Commissioner Charles "Skip" Gruber said the policy should reflect common sense.
"You know whether you're doing something that you should not be doing," Gruber said. "Nobody's going to holler at you if you stop off to get a loaf of bread as you're passing by instead of going to get your own vehicle and turning around and coming back. That's just not good common sense. It's just the way it should be done."
Ball said commissioners will go over the current policy before creating new guidelines to be voted on.
"Let's get that one printed out and we can redline it," Ball said. "If we are able to create a policy on this, which we have been told for basically a couple of years, three years that we can't, then I'm ready to start redlining all this dictatorship that went on before because everybody else who drives county vehicles gets to do what they want to, not within our country realm, but everybody else does."