PDT Staff Writer
Statements such as, “It is very unfortunate that this issue is made out to be bigger than what it really is,” and “I am the Chief Executive in the administration of the city, therefore, I can’t see the matter of ‘unauthorized use’ as an issue,” in an e-mail from Portsmouth Mayor David Malone concerning his use of city equipment on his personal property, have drawn the ire of at least one member of Portsmouth City Council.
“I consider this, Mr. Mayor, yet another example of problems currently facing the city that can be directly linked to the oft mentioned lazy excuse of ‘we’ve always done it this way,’” First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson responded in an e-mail to Malone.
Last week the Daily Times carried a story about Malone’s use of a piece of equipment owned by the city on a project on his own property. Malone admitted to the use and said it is a common practice to allow city employees to use city equipment on their personal property. That assessment was backed up by City Service Director Bill Beaumont, who told the Daily Times it is a long-time practice.
That story prompted Johnson to send an e-mail to Malone with a copy of the city’s Table of Offenses and Penalties.
“Beginning on page 57 you shall find a Table of Offenses and Penalties. For this discussion’s purposes, please refer to page 60 (and see attachment) which outlines these two offenses (emphasis is mine): Loss or damage to, unauthorized use or willful Destruction of City property/records or information, Theft, actual or attempted, Taking and carrying away City property or property of others.”
Johnson ends that correspondence with, “Might I strenuously suggest that such an occurrence as noted in the Portsmouth Daily Times article, by any city employee, need not ever occur again.”
Malone then sent an e-mail to Johnson.
“It is very unfortunate that this issue is made out to be bigger than what it really is. Although it does not happen often, there are instances where employees have been permitted the use of city owned property when requested, and for good reasons. As far as the use of city property, in my case, I have not done anything that I have not allowed others to do. In each instance, although undocumented, we were sure to protect the city from any liability whatsoever should there have been any damage and/or loss,” Malone said. “Please be assured that I am very familiar with the city’s personnel policies and procedures manual and do understand the levels of discipline should any offence occur. However, please be advised that there was no violation that occurred in this matter whatsoever as there was no loss or damage to said equipment and, respectfully speaking, I am the Chief Executive in the administration of the city, therefore, I can’t see the matter of ‘unauthorized use’ as an issue. Further, in discussing a need that I had with the department director and enquiring if there would be a problem with the use of certain piece of equipment, there was no perceived issue with granting the request to use the equipment. In other words, the equipment was not taken without knowledge and permission.”
Malone finished off his email with: “Please understand that I will never do anything illegal, misleading or misrepresenting my position as Mayor. It is my passion to be the administrator who gives its employees the opportunity to better the quality of their lives and family, so long as it does not negatively affect the city in any way. In each case, this was all I intended. Suffice to say that I am most disappointed that this matter is viewed in any other way. In closing, your suggestion for any future requests is so noted.”
The e-mail correspondence continued.
“I appreciate your putting your opinion concerning the use of city property in writing, Mr. Mayor,” Johnson responded. “The city does not purchase equipment/property of any nature, e.g., tools, computers, lawn mowers, automobiles, cell phones & etc., for the personal use of city employees. Second, such a practice is, in my opinion, a violation of public trust inasmuch as the public, who paid for all city equipment/property, may not avail themselves of such equipment/property. Third, one cannot ‘protect the city from any liability’ when an instance of equipment/property use by a city employee is undocumented. Finally, I personally believe this practice to be unethical. I can only assume you have knowledge of how other governments and private businesses/corporations address this issue and such has led to your stated opinion. Your sharing such knowledge will be appreciated. In closing, I am hopeful that the Legal, Legislative and Safety Committee and Councilman Gene Meadows shall review this matter and advise Council. And, as this may be considered city policy, I am sure you will understand why I am sharing it with other interested parties.”
In an e-mail sent out by Malone at 8:09 p.m. Tuesday, the mayor said:
“Sir, I do have knowledge of how other governments and the private sector addresses this issue and I must admit that they are quite different than how the city addresses this, as well as other, practices and policies. Yes, I do know for a fact that some private business owners do, in fact, allow their employees to use some company/corporate equipment at times to perform personal projects. I know that the city has, for many, many, many years permitted (authorized) City employees to borrow city equipment. The request to use city equipment is taken to each department Director. The Director will approve (authorize) or not. The date the employee takes the equipment and the date the equipment is returned is documented. Whether this practice is right or wrong, I have simply continued this practice since taking office.”
It was that e-mail that drew the following comment from Johnson at 6:56 a.m. Wednesday: “I consider this, Mr. Mayor, yet another example of problems currently facing the city that can be directly linked to the oft mentioned lazy excuse of ‘we’ve always done it this way.’”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or firstname.lastname@example.org. For breaking news, follow Frank on Twitter @FrankLewisPDT.