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Mayor puts brakes on after-hours use of town equipment

July 17, 2005|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

Williamsport probably will stop letting employees use town equipment to make money on side jobs, Mayor James G. McCleaf II said Thursday.

McCleaf has halted the practice until the town council talks about it at its August meeting and sets a policy. He said the practice should stop.

The extracurricular use of town equipment came to light at Monday's council meeting when McCleaf brought it up.

From the audience, Town Supervisor Jeff Long said employees have done certain jobs for the public, such as repairing sidewalks, for 60 percent to 70 percent of what contractors charge.

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Clerk/Treasurer Bonnie J. Errico said the next day that employees did the work while they were off-duty and kept the money that customers paid them.

Officials in other Washington County municipalities said Thursday that they don't let employees use town equipment for outside work.

A Boonsboro ordinance specifically forbids it, Town Manager John Kendall said. Unless they have specific permission, employees who use equipment when it's not part of their jobs will be disciplined and possibly fired, Kendall said.

The prohibition is there "to protect the taxpayers' money," he said. "They pay for this equipment."

Hancock also doesn't let employees borrow equipment for their own use, Mayor Daniel Murphy said.

Neither does Funkstown, Mayor Robert Kline said.

An exception is made if employees move. They may use a town truck, but Kline said he has to approve it.

Equipment use isn't an issue in Smithsburg, which doesn't own heavy machinery, Clerk/Treasurer/Manager Betsy Martin said. The town hires businesses to do work of that type.

Tom Reynolds of the Maryland Municipal League, an association of local governments, said he has never heard of the practice that has been allowed in Williamsport.

McCleaf said Thursday that Local Government Insurance Trust, a not-for-profit self-insurance association that covers Williamsport and other municipalities, recommended that the town stop the equipment-use practice.

At Monday's council meeting, Town Attorney Edward Kuczynski said the liability issue was "as clear as mud." It appears that the equipment would be covered by the town's insurance, but not the off-duty employee, he said.

Local Government Insurance Trust, or LGIT, would defend the town if it were sued over work done by an off-duty employee, Herbert Schomburg, LGIT's director of underwriting and loss control, said Thursday.

But someone would be more likely to sue the employee, who would not be acting as an agent of the town and would not be covered by LGIT, Schomburg said.

McCleaf said Thursday that he didn't know about the equipment use until a few weeks after he took office in March. He allowed it to continue, as long as employees reimbursed the town for fuel and other expenses.

But when questions came up this month, he mentioned it at Monday's council meeting.

McCleaf said he knows of only one time that town equipment - a backhoe - has been used this way since he became mayor.

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