The Prince George’s County government spends more than $110,000 a year on automobile allowances and take-home cars for county council officials, a perk that goes far beyond what is offered in neighboring jurisdictions.
All nine council members and the council’s two top administrators are either assigned a government vehicle or paid a yearly car allowance.
Between 2011 and 2016, council members driving take-home cars were involved in at least 15 collisions, including a major crash Nov. 21 that resulted in the arrest of council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro) on drunken-driving charges.
They also received at least 107 speeding, missed-toll and parking citations, according to public records provided to The Washington Post.
This story by Arelis Hernández over at WaPo is an eye-opening, must-read. After Councilman Mel Franklin’s DUI last year, we learned that members of Prince George’s County Council get a car to take home. What we did not know, was that there is no requirement to track job-related mileage, no oversight to make sure it’s only used for the job, nothing. In fact, Council member Lehman said she consulted with former council members and staff and everyone said she could use the vehicle on days she had no council business, that was perfectly fine.
Five sitting council members – Lehman, Toles, Harrison, Franklin, and Patterson – have been in car accidents with the cars the taxpayer has provided them. In 8 of the last 15 accidents, the council member was at fault. More than just that are the 107 citations issued over the last several years to various council members. Mr. Franklin is the second worst offender with 20 citations, Ms Lehman has 17 citations, but Ms Karen Toles is the worst offender with 46 citations in the last 6 years. Ms Toles was previously busted driving over 105 mph on the beltway while talking on her phone and applying makeup. Not kidding. Ms Toles also uses twice as much gas as everyone else, tanking up to the tune of $2,709+ on the taxpayer dime.
In the comment section, Ms Hernandez answered some reader questions, and the information was very enlightening. When asked about council member salaries, and insurance and gas for the county cars she said,
Salary-wise, Prince George’s council members are among the highest paid in the state. Check the Maryland Association of Counties website for a general idea, they produce annual reports. We felt that comparing the county to Fairfax and Montgomery was appropriate because they are roughly the same size, are in the metro region and work together on regional boards tackling the same issues. The rest of the state is very different from the dc area.
And, they do not pay insurance. The county is self-insured so it’s taxpayer money. They do not pay for gas. The county buys commodities in bulk to reduce costs and estimates use. So CMs are given PIN numbers to enter into county-owned pumps to get gas. The county govt tracks their consumption through the pins. The total is taxed at the end of the year, I believe, but they don’t pay up front the way you or I would at a private gas station.
The council’s justification for continuing this expenditure, one that is due to increase this year and skyrocket when we add the new at-large seats, is that they get paid less then Montgomery County’s council, so they need their county-provided vehicles. According to Maryland Association of Counties records, as of 2015 (they all got cost-of-living raises in 2016), the PGC Council Chair was making $108,716. The Vice-chair makes just over $106,000, and council members make $103,716 a year. That’s roughly $30,000 more than the median income level for the average family in the county, yet they need a county-provided car, and keeping track of official business use is just too overwhelming according to Council member Lehman. The really sick part is that both the school board and the council claim we don’t have enough funds for the school system on a regular basis. While this money is not enough to cover the expenses they say we need, $110,000 a year is enough to fund another teacher or two, depending on the level of pay.
This is an egregious use of taxpayer dollars. As Joseph Kitchen Jr, president of the Maryland Young Democrats, said, “It is a benefit that most workers do not get. For a government that continues to complain about being strapped for cash, they have clearly not done enough to eliminate a lot of fat in the budget.”