Pub­lic peeved city van taken to Women’s March

Re­ac­tion was swift to story staffers took ve­hi­cle to anti-Trump rally in Wash­ing­ton

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - AN­DREW DRESCHEL An­drew Dreschel’s com­men­tary ap­pears Mon­day, Wed­nes­day and Fri­day. adreschel@thes­pec.com 905-526-3495 @An­drewDreschel

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.

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