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Columbus County employees driving cars home in violation of policy

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Commissioners will review Columbus County’s vehicle policy during a workshop Monday. (Source: WECT) Commissioners will review Columbus County’s vehicle policy during a workshop Monday. (Source: WECT)
WHITEVILLE, NC (WECT) -

Some Columbus County employees drive county cars home in violation of the government's policy, public records reveal.  

The vehicle policy states:

"Only the following employees will be authorized to drive county vehicles home: Animal control officers, Fire Marshall, Deputy fire Marshall, Public Utilities Personnel on call, Public utilities Director, Sheriff and Deputies, Emergency Service Director, Health Director and DSS Director." 

During a meeting last week, County Manager Bill Clark gave commissioners a list of vehicle assignments that includes four employees not covered by the policy. The employees work in building inspections, maintenance, solid waste and emergency services.  

"Some of these department head managers, I don't believe they should have a car - a company vehicle - to drive to and from work at taxpayers' expense," said Edwin Russ, chairman of the Columbus County Board of Commissioners, in an interview this week. 

Commissioners will review the vehicle policy during a workshop Monday. 

Columbus County already has one of the most detailed policies in the region. 

The document states that drivers aren't allowed to smoke in county cars or use cell phones behind the wheel. The policy also specifies that employees are not allowed to drive county vehicles home for lunch.  

Records show 84 workers regularly commute in county cars. Seventy-one of the employees work at the sheriff's office.  

"I have more take-home cars than any other department in the county, but I can justify why these people have these cars and they take them home," Sheriff Lewis Hatcher said.

He explained his employees who drive cars home are all sworn officers who can be called to work at any time.  

"It's important to me for these guys to have these cars because when you have hurricanes and tornadoes - and then you have parades - these are the people that come in and assist me with these duties rather than me having to pull these six guys that I have on patrol off the road to come in and help with this type stuff," Hatcher said. 

The sheriff said deputies clock-in from their homes at the beginning of a shift and start responding to calls immediately rather than having to drive to the office near Whiteville and getting a car.  

Bailiffs, who are sworn officers, don't drive sheriff's office vehicles home because there aren't enough cars to go around, Hatcher said. 

A review of county take-home vehicles across the region

 Bladen 

  • Sheriff's office vehicles driven home: 50

  • Other vehicles taken home: 11

  • Departments: Building inspections, water district, EMS, solid waste, emergency services

  • Policy: County Manager Greg Martin did not send a policy.

Brunswick 

  • Sheriff's office vehicles driven home: Approximately 185

  • Other vehicles taken home: 5

  • Departments: Emergency management, parks and recreation. In some situations employees may take home a county motor pool vehicle. 

  • Policy: The policy doesn't directly address take-home vehicles but states, "All County vehicles are to be used for County business only, except as provided by the County Manager or Commissioners."

Columbus

  • Sheriff's office vehicles driven home: 71

  • Other vehicles taken home: 13

  • Departments: Animal control, building inspections, health department, maintenance, public utilities, solid waste, emergency services, fire marshal

  • Policy: The policy specifies, by title, which employees are allowed to drive vehicles home. 

New Hanover 

  • Sheriff's office vehicles driven home: 248

  • Other vehicles taken home: 31

  • Departments: Emergency management, fire services, New Hanover County sheriff's department civilian, property management

  • Policy: Sheriff's office employees who live outside a 25-mile radius from the intersection of College Road and Market Street are not allowed to take home county vehicles, although the sheriff may grant exceptions. 

Pender  

  • Sheriff's office vehicles driven home: 68

  • Other vehicles taken home: 10

  • Departments: Emergency management and utilities

  • Policy: Only law enforcement employees can use county-owned vehicle for commuting outside the county. 

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