Last month Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell totaled his car in accident downtown. As a consequence, he announced that he wants the City of Grand Rapids to buy him a Ford Escape Hybrid (of course, Big Sister would want a hybrid) for his personal use. City Commissioner Rick Tormala has already responded that he will vote against the request for the obvious reason that the city government is in a budget crunch.
It should be noted that it has been the custom of the city government to provide the mayor with a city-owned vehicle for personal use. So, Heartwell's request is not without precedent. However, that does not mean the taxpayers have an obligation to meet that request. First of all, city residents are doing with less from their city government because of the shortfall in tax revenues from the state while not cutting enough fat from the budget. If the residents can do with less, so can Heartwell. Apparently, he understood this when he first took office and made a show of declining the customary personal vehicle perk.
Second, Heartwell's change of mind about that perk is a part and parcel of his conception of the office of mayor as a personal fiefdom. Recall that he fought for a big pay raise. He signed the "Mystery Development" confidentiality agreement as mayor to obtain special personal access to information about the project. When Michigan voters passed Prop 2, Heartwell declared he would use his office to advance his personal political beliefs about race without regard to the lawful decision of his fellow citizens. When he wanted to ban smoking, he said as mayor he can demand that we do as he does. When a developer was disgruntled with Heartwell's arbitrary stand against his project, Heartwell proclaimed that as mayor he would fight "tooth and nail" to stop him. And so on, one incident after another reveals that Heartwell understands the office of mayor as his property for aggrandizement. Now as mayor he wants a car from the taxpayers. Not because that would serve the interests of the public, but because he personally needs one.
Third, whether or not it makes good policy to provide a car to Heartwell, it should not happen until the city government cleans up the income tax evasion related to the personal use of city-owned vehicles. If an employer provides an employee with a vehicle, personal use of that vehicle is deemed taxable compensation that the employer must report to both the employee and the IRS on a Form 1099-MISC. The employee then must include the amount of that compensation on his federal income tax return. If the employee uses the vehicle for both his personal use and business use, normally he keeps a mileage log recording his business use so that will not be included as compensation on the Form 1099. When we FOIA'ed the City of Grand Rapids to get copies of the Form 1099's and mileage logs for then-Mayor John Logie's use of the Buick Rendezvous the city provided him as a perk, the City Attorney's office reported that no such records existed. That means Logie was receiving compensation from you the taxpayers that was not reported to the IRS.
Apparently the city government's practice of not reporting as compensation to city employees their personal use of city-owned vehicles continues and is widespread. Basically, it is payment under the table to city employees, and the taxpayers are getting it stuck to them from both ends. They foot the bill for the vehicles they are providing city employees while not receiving any tax revenues from them for personal use of those vehicles. If Heartwell wants to demand a car from the taxpayers, then he should demand that the city government stop this corrupt practice now.