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BOC delays requests for exemptions to vehicle policy

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

The Clayton County Board of Commissioners, for a second meeting in a row, decided to postpone its decision on exemptions to the new county take-home vehicle policy requested by the police, fire, and prison departments.

Earlier this month, Clayton County Police Chief Jeff Turner asked commissioners to approve 25 additional take-home vehicle exemptions, in addition to the 60 cars currently allowed to be taken home by employees living outside the county. Fire Chief Alex Cohilas requested three additional vehicle exemptions to the department's current five, and Clayton County Prison Warden Frank Smith requested that a duty officer living in Locust Grove be accommodated for miles put on his personal car while conducting county business.

On Tuesday, at the request of commissioner Wole Ralph, the board came to a consensus to hold the request until the next business meeting. He said the board needs more time to make an informed decision. "The board just hasn't come to an agreement yet," said Ralph. "Since the board's decision on [the vehicle policy], a lot of department heads have come back to us with requests for exemptions."

Ralph said the BOC needs more time to determine the criteria for which exemptions to the policy are deemed worthy.

BOC Chairman Eldrin Bell said before the next meeting, he would like to see a status report from each of the departments, detailing how many take-home cars were utilized outside the county before and after the vehicle policy change. He said he would also like additional information as to where those cars are being utilized.

"I'm sure that will be helpful to the commissioners in making their decision," said Bell.

The county's new take-home vehicle policy, which took affect on Feb. 1, greatly limited the number of take-home vehicles department heads could assign to their employees residing outside the county. Before the new policy, the police department had 155 cars assigned to officers living outside the county. Since the policy, that number has been reduced to less than half the previous total.

Turner said the additional 25 out-of-county, take-home vehicles were needed for his Criminal Investigation Division (CID). He said many of the division's officers reside outside the county. Turner said delaying the decision "hinders us from doing our jobs as efficiently as we could be doing it.

"Seventy percent of all the homicides we had last year were solved," said Turner. "One of the reasons for that is because we were able to get the officers to the scene in a quick and efficient manor. Everything they need is packed up in their car."

Cohilas said that currently, only five take-home vehicles approved to travel outside the county are shared collectively among the Emergency Medical Services (EMS), fire, and emergency management divisions.

"I was caught in a situation where I was having to rotate, and it was creating difficulty," among the three divisions, said Cohilas. He said he is currently asking the BOC for three more vehicle exemptions.

"I have faith in their judgment," he said. "I will continue to be patient and work through the challenges. They will make a decision and I will live with that."

Smith said the prison has four duty officers, each of whom, one week per month, are required to be on-call to respond to any incidents at the prison. On the weekends, that duty officer is also required to check on prisoners in isolation and segregation, as well as monitor the safety and cleanliness of the prison.

Since the policy change, three of the four duty officers are able to use take-home vehicles, while the one duty officer living in Locust Grove has to use his personal vehicle. Smith requested that that duty officer be compensated for his mileage.

"One week per month, he ends up as duty officer ... and he would have to flip the bill," said Smith. "I didn't like that, but we were following the new policy.

"In the interest of fairness to him, we would like to see them approve that mileage," Smith continued. "It's a simple thing to do."

Bell said he believes the board will feel confident in making a decision on the emptions by the next business meeting on May 6.