Rapid response needs
Here's a look at the different categories of take-home vehicles the city of Lawrence has in its fleet.
Life and safety emergencies: The police department has three take-home vehicles, and the fire department has nine for supervisors expected to respond to major incidents.
Recreation: The Parks and Recreation Department has four employees with take-home vehicles. Ernie Shaw, acting director of the department, said his employees get called in after hours on a weekly basis because many of the department's classes and events happen during the evening or on weekends. False security alarms at recreation centers, blown fuses or other maintenance issues, fallen trees in the city right-of-way, and equipment problems at outdoor fields are frequent reasons staff members get called back in after hours.
Water meters: Five employees who maintain and read city water meters routinely drive pick-up trucks home. One employee is always on call to shut off water meters as part of a waterline break at a home or business. Other water meter employees use the vehicles to go directly from their home each morning to grocers and other locations that accept utility bill payments. The employees collect the billing payments to take to City Hall. Finance Director Ed Mullins, who supervisors the department, said he's found that adds efficiency to the bill collection operation that outweighs the cost of allowing the vehicles to be taken home.
Infrastructure emergencies: The Public Works Department has 12 employees with take-home vehicles. They include people who get called in to clean up roads during emergencies such as fires or floods. The number also includes a mechanic who is on call to fix fire engines and other key pieces of city equipment after normal business hours. The employee responsible for fixing traffic signals also has a vehicle. Solid waste supervisors are allowed to have a take-home vehicle because the city has found it is more efficient to have the supervisors report directly to individual trash routes rather than report to the solid waste division's central office.
City Manager David Corliss said with rising gasoline prices, the feasibility of allowing take-home vehicles may have changed in some situations.
"I haven't closed the book on whether all these positions will continue to have take-home vehicles," Corliss said.
Here's a rundown of how other government-owned vehicles are handled in the area:
The county has one of the larger fleets of take-home vehicles in the area. The Douglas County Sheriff's Department has 26 vehicles that at times are taken home by its patrol, detective, administration and warrant division, said Lt. Kari Wempe, a department spokeswoman. Wempe said the department prohibits employees who live outside the county from taking home a vehicle.
Wempe said allowing take-home vehicles cuts down on the amount of overtime the department must pay, and provides a quicker response to emergencies.
Douglas County Administrator Craig Weinaug said other departments that use take-home vehicles include two supervisors in the Public Works Department who respond to road emergencies, up to two inspectors in the Zoning and Codes Department who go directly to inspection sites from their home, and the director of emergency preparedness. He also said the director of Youth Services, which operates the juvenile detention center, is authorized but does not always use a take-home vehicle.
Lawrence school district
The school district does not have any take-home vehicles in its fleet, said Tom Bracciano, director of facilities for the school district.
Only Bill Winegar, Public Works director, uses a vehicle after hours, and that's because he must respond to any city-service emergency, said City Administrator Jeff Dingman. He said police sometimes take patrol cars home.
"Police officers assigned to a vehicle typically may drive them home as a policy to keep them from all being unattended at the same location," Dingman said.
The policy is to allow the employee on call in the sewer and water departments to take a vehicle home, City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle said. De Soto contracts its law enforcement service from the Johnson County Sheriff's Office. Employees are not asked to maintain logs of the vehicle use, he said.
The De Soto school district policy is simpler. No one is allowed to take district vehicles home for the night, district community relations director Alvie Cater said.
Three city employees can take vehicles home - the police chief, the fire chief and the city superintendent. All three are department heads and are on call 24 hours a day.
A total of 43 county-owned vehicles travel home with employees. Most are driven by sheriff's deputies on patrol duty. Leavenworth County Emergency Medical Services staff, Emergency Management and one employee in the Public Works Department also take home vehicles. Administrators routinely monitor vehicle usage with a daily activity log.
Six full-time Tonganoxie police officers and five full-time Public Works employees take city-owned vehicles home. According to city policy, only employees who live within city limits are allowed to take vehicles home, with exceptions. At the time the policy took effect, two Public Works employees lived outside the city limits. They were allowed to continue driving vehicles home. All police officers who take home vehicles live in Tonganoxie. Police Chief Kenneth Carpenter, who does not live in the city, doesn't take a police vehicle home, but is given a $250 monthly travel allowance.
Only bus drivers take home school vehicles, Tonganoxie Superintendent Richard Erickson said. Most drivers' bus routes are near their homes.
Three city employees - Fire Chief Cliff Lane, Police Chief Mark Mathies and Public Works Director John Sower - can take home a city-owned vehicle.
Four employees drive cars home: the police chief, the chief and assistant chief of the fire department, and the EMS chief.
In the Shawnee Police Department, one major, three captains, four lieutenants, eight of 11 detectives and two motorcycle officers take vehicles home. In the fire department, only the fire marshal, who is on call seven days a week, takes home a city vehicle.
In Public Works, the field operations manager can use a four-wheel drive vehicle in the winter months to respond to storms if he gives prior notification to the director. However, city officials said the field operations manager hasn't requested use of a vehicle for several years. The city manager, department directors and the mayor receive vehicle allowances. Mayor Jeff Meyers receives $5,400; Carol Gonzales, city manager, receives $8,200. Directors of the Information Technology, Finance, Fire, Planning, Development Services, Public Works and Parks and Recreation departments all receive $5,400, while the city clerk/assistant city manager receives a $3,600 allowance.
Three on-call police supervisors - who live within 5 miles of the city - take vehicles home.
"It was designed from a recommendation by emergency preparedness," Police Chief Lloyd Martley said of the new policy. "It was determined by what happened down in New Orleans (Hurricane Katrina). They lost their entire fleet because all the vehicles were in one lot. If some of the vehicles are taken home and a tornado hits the station, we'll still have some vehicles available to provide some assistance to citizens."
- World Company reporters Lara Hastings, David Oakes, Elvyn Jones, Leann Sulzen, Caroline Boyer, Nicole Kelley, Jeff Myrick, Estuardo Garcia, Joel Walsh and Shawn Linenberger contributed to this report.