Public peeved city van taken to Women’s March
Reaction was swift to story staffers took vehicle to anti-Trump rally in Washington
Readers responded swiftly and lividly to Monday’s column about a group of city of Hamilton staffers who used a city van to attend an anti-Trump women’s march in Washington without proper authorization.
Scores of emails and phone calls came pouring in to my desk, expressing anger and frustration over what most saw as a sorry misuse of taxpayer dollars and an offhand sense of entitlement by public sector workers.
One woman’s tongue was firmly planted in her cheek but there was real bite to her phone message.
“My husband and I have a 40th anniversary coming up,” said Deb. “Seeing as we’re taxpayers, I’m wondering if I could use that van to go to Washington. I would love to see the White House.”
Along the same lines, an irked rural taxpayer wondered what would happen if some front line workers decided to commandeer a city truck for their own use.
“If one of the garbage guys did it and used it for hunting, I guarantee you there’d be a lot more said about it.”
A couple of responses were unabashedly pro-Trump. One was anti-feminist. But most were simply deeply peeved by what they saw as a self-indulgence by well paid (there was well over half a million dollars in salaries riding in that van) and privileged city workers travelling for personal reasons on the taxpayers’ dime. At least one reader was struck by what he saw as the pure arrogance of the whole thing.
“Can you imagine if four or five guys took a city van, used a couple of vacation days, and went down to a rally in support of Trump,” said Don.
Briefly, the story hinges on Joe-Anne Priel, general manager of community and emergency services, and six other employees using a city van and conducting out-of country city business without proper authorization from city manager Chris Murray.
Priel says they used the city-owned vehicle to go to the protest because they were also working during the trip by gathering info at community hubs in Washington, visits which were booked “almost concurrently” with the decision to join the march. Priel says she didn’t look at the policy stipulating she needed permission. Priel explained the group didn’t expense the five-day trip. They booked two days vacation for travelling, joined the march for one day, visited some hubs another day, and worked on email the rest of the time.
Having spoken to Priel about the transgression, Murray said he considers the matter closed. But is it? Several readers feel there’s something very fishy going on.
“If this trip was indeed a working trip, why would they have taken vacation days and why would they not have expensed the trip for the time they were visiting the ‘hubs’…? asked Jeannette.
In other words, were the hub visits just a convenient cover? “Since she was on business, shouldn’t the portion of it — hotels, meals, gas etc. be expensed?” asked John. “I don’t think we are hearing the facts and they are trying to pull the wool over our eyes.”
Others wondered if city credit cards were used to pay for gas, meals, or accommodations.
Some wanted to know if the employees will be charged for the use and wear and tear on the van during the trip, an eight or nine hour journey each way.
A goodly number asked who would have been responsible if the van had been stolen or in an accident since it was taken without proper authorization. I passed these questions on to Murray by email. Here’s his response:
“I can confirm that the city’s fleet of vehicles is fully insured and this coverage applies to the scenarios you’ve highlighted. As I’m sure you can appreciate the remainder of the questions are confidential in nature.”
I could be off base, but I suspect if answers to these legitimate questions are being labelled confidential, this matter is, in fact, still in play, still under review, still far from being closed.