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Ordinance addresses municipal vehicles, sparks debate

Date: 8/29/2014

AGAWAM – After money was used from the compost bins account for the purchase of a municipal vehicle, the City Council proposed a new resolution to implement an ordinance to better define the guidelines for municipal vehicle use.
Mayor Richard Cohen reacted swiftly and negatively to the proposal.
The City Council is tentatively scheduled to review the matter at its next meeting on Sept. 2. Resolution TOR-2014-5 was sponsored by Councilors Donald Rheault, Robert Rossi and Anthony Suffriti and was officially filed on July 23.
On July 30, Cohen sent a letter to the council regarding the resolution. He wrote, “While some Agawam City Councilors ‘believe’ that the town of Agawam should adopt this ordinance, I find it completely unnecessary. Currently, the town has a proper vehicle use policy in place.”
Cohen addressed the purchase of a municipal vehicle for his office, citing the fact that his previous vehicle was “10-years-old and had less than 44,000 miles on it. It was essentially and eight-cylinder ‘police car.’ I am confident that the Agawam Police Department can better utilize this asset for ‘police work.’
He concluded, “In closing, I wish to caution the council that it is exceeding its legislative authority as outlined in Section 2-4 of the Agawam Town Charter. As mayor, I am always willing and ready to work with any council person that feels we need to update our Vehicle Use Policy and/or any policy for that matter. All policies are reviewed for efficiency and effectiveness and are in line with collective bargaining agreements.”
During the City Council’s budget approval meeting on June 23, the issue of the mayor’s car was a heated topic between Rossi and Cohen.
Rossi’s main point of contention was the use of $278,000 from the compost bin account to purchase eight vehicles for the town including a new car for the mayor – transactions that never went before the council and with revenue from the town’s recycling programs.
“Why haven’t those revenues been divided into separate line item revolving accounts?” Rossi asked, referring to the fact that the monies were being spent on items other than compost bins and should be distinguished as such. He referred to the account as a “cash cow.”
Cohen said, “It wasn’t an issue until I bought a car for myself, at no cost to the taxpayers, that's fuel efficient. I had a car that was almost 12-years-old with 44,000 miles that had an Interceptor engine.”
The mayor said the issue has already been discussed and that Rossi has never question the account until now. He added, “You were out taking pictures of my VIN, my plate, the whole bit. That’s wonderful. You’re not a detective; you’re a counselor. Nothing was done illegally. You’re a piranha looking for an ankle to bite and unfortunately, you're biting the wrong ankle.”
The proposed resolution explicitly states, “The Agawam City Council desires to adopt an ordinance which would enhance fiscal responsibility as well as the more efficient and effective use of municipal vehicles; and whereas the Agawam City Council believes that the following ordinance on use of municipal vehicles will substantially reduce fuel consumption costs incurred by our community.”
The ordinance proposes to restrict municipal vehicle use to “official town business;” ensure that all vehicles are “appropriately marked with departmental or town seals or appropriate letter that is highly visible;” prohibit unauthorized users from taking vehicles to and from work; enforce that municipal vehicles are parked in designated space in town lots; and to enforce penalties of $25, $50 or $200 if the policy if employees fail to adhere to the policy.
In addition, the ordinance states, “This ordinance shall supersede all existing policies and/or guidelines regarding the use of municipal vehicles and shall take effect upon its passage.”