Russell commissioners haggle over cars again

For the second consecutive meeting, Russell County Commissioners spent more than 30 minutes discussing the use of a county car.

After much discussion by all seven commissioners and local NAACP president Bill Madison, commissioners Gentry Lee, Tillman Pugh, Peggy Martin and Mervin Dudley voted to approve the policy restricting the use of county vehicles by commissioners unless traveling outside or Russell or Muscogee counties. Commissioners Ronnie Reed and Cattie Epps voted against the measure, while Commissioner Larry Screws abstained from voting.

In the last meeting of 2008, Reed said the move to restrict the use of vehicles was racial. He invited Madison to speak at the commission’s Wednesday meeting. “This is a divisive issue,” Madison said, adding that Reed seems to think the issue is racially motivated. “Sometime perception is reality.”

Although the commission approved the policy, Reed said an attorney general’s opinion would show that in order to set policy for commissioners the policy must be unanimously approved by resolution, not majority vote.

“This is not going to hold water,” Reed said.

The policy was tabled last year until research could be conducted to determine if a previous commission had adopted a policy on vehicle use. Martin and Dudley said upon further investigation, they could find no such policy.

“We are in economic dyer times. We must think of stewardship,” said Martin, who abstained from voting last year on the policy. “It is my belief that we do not use county vehicles, unless we are traveling outside of the county, our sister city of Columbus, or unless it’s an emergency.”

Screws said the way the policy is written it will not allow for any “emergencies” and asked the measure be reworked to include more allowances.

“I have no problem with the policy itself. I think we’re shooting ourselves in the foot by making it so rigid that there is no flexibility,” Screws said.

Martin suggested that instead of commissioners being allowed to use the vehicle to complete their official duties, they ask the County Engineer Larry Kite or a member of his staff to drive them to locations as needed.

“If we’re going to ask Mr. Kite to pick us up, we’re infringing on his time and we pay him a lot of money,” said Screws, suggesting one day a month each commissioner be allowed to use the vehicle to drive his or her district if he or she so chooses. “Why can’t we table it until we can write a policy to fit what we want to do.”

“Because it keeps the issue in the headlines,” Lee said.