By STEVE JONES Staff writer
The city should put the brakes on the use of the police department’s electric vehicles by officials who are not officers and by other residents, stated two members of the Common Council Wednesday. The complaints came after last weekend’s Rome Rotary Club Canalfest.
Councilor John M. Sparace, R-1, said at Wednesday’s council meeting that he received complaints over the weekend about the "use of our police electric vehicles by people in the community who are not city employees and by city employees who are not police officers." He texted Mayor Joseph R. Fusco Jr. during Canalfest, but nothing changed.
Fusco, a Rotary member, attended all three days of the event, he said. Fusco, who drove one of the vehicles during the event, said: "The idea was that we’re trying to find other alternative uses for the $60,000 purchase." The police purchased four electric vehicles in 2011, before Fusco took office.
The mayor said he received only positive reaction from the community about the use of the vehicles for non-police activity. He said one resident volunteer moved trash bags with the vehicle, and that the police also used the vehicles during the event.
Councilor John B. Mortise, R-2, who represents the area where the event was held in Bellamy Harbor Park, said the vehicles were being used by citizens to ferry other citizens to their cars after the event ended each night. Fusco said it was county electric vehicles that were used for that purpose.
"If Councilor Mortise was so concerned, he was there, he could have asked me right then and there," Fusco said today.
Sparace asked Corporation Counsel Timothy A. Benedict if the city was having residents sign waivers to drive or ride in the city’s electric vehicles. Benedict said he was not aware of any such waiver. Sparace then asked whether a lack of waiver could leave the city liable if there was an accident while a resident was driving a city vehicle. Benedict said there could be liability.
Sparace called the activity "unacceptable," saying that the electric vehicles, which bear the markings of the police department, are meant only for police. "I have a real issue with this." What, he asked, if people need police or medical services and approach a police vehicle only to find a citizen at the wheel?
Fusco said today: "I don’t know what the limitations are" on what else the vehicles can be used for, and he is directing the law office to review all options. Absent a public safety commissioner, the mayor acts in that role.
Mortise said Wednesday that it is not up to the mayor to make the decision to use police vehicles for other tasks.