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Resolution urges fewer free rides

| Wednesday, April 7, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

Too many Pittsburgh workers have around-the-clock use of city vehicles, City Council believes. Beyond that, council President Gene Ricciardi wants tighter controls on cars checked out of the city motor pool for short-term use by himself and other council members.

Council unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday urging Mayor Tom Murphy to reduce the number of take-home vehicles used by non-emergency employees on a 24-hour basis.

Ricciardi said he also wants "a more detailed" management of the use of city-owned vehicles that are checked out of the city's motor pool.

"I think there needs to be more detail in the paperwork," he said. "It needs to specifically state the time and date of the meeting (being attended) or the task you are going to perform, and the times and mileage of those tasks."

Ricciardi's comment was in response to a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review report last week that revealed three members of council, including Ricciardi, used city-owned cars for weeks at a time this winter.

He said his use of a city car for 20 days to monitor the Public Works Department's snow removal was justified city business. He said he announced the project at a public meeting before he checked out the car.

Council members Jim Motznik and Twanda Carlisle kept city cars for weeks at a time. Motznik said yesterday he has reimbursed the city $150 for the mileage reimbursement he received for November when he had a city car every day.

"I realized I shouldn't have done that. An error was made," he said.

When his car broke down, Motznik signed out a 2003 Chevrolet Impala from the city motor pool on Oct. 27 and kept it until Dec. 2. Carlisle signed out the same Impala on Feb. 4 and kept it until March 10 because her car had transmission problems.

Motznik yesterday stood by his criticism of the Murphy administration for allowing too many employees to keep vehicles on a take-home basis.

Ricciardi, Motznik and other supporters of the resolution maintain the cash-strapped city could generate "several hundred thousand dollars" by auctioning off nonessential vehicles and reducing spending on maintenance, gas and insurance costs.

Ricciardi, who sponsored the nonbinding resolution adopted yesterday, has charged that some of the take-home vehicles are issued as "perks," giving employees a free ride to and from work at taxpayer expense.

The administration cut take-home vehicles from 111 to 85 in September; Ricciardi said he believes that number can be reduced by 20 cars.

Craig Kwiecinski, Murphy's spokesman, renewed the administration's position that the take-home vehicles are for city business only and not as "perks."

"We'll be happy to provide council with an updated list detailing the nearly 25 percent reduction we made in the city's take-home fleet," Kwiecinski said, referring to the resolution council passed.

"We'll continue to review this issue, but at this point everyone with take-home privileges has a 24-hour responsibility and/or they are members of the city's emergency response team."

The resolution calls for the city's General Services Department to report back to council on the status of take-home vehicles.

Ricciardi said the next move is up to the mayor.

"He can ignore the resolution or abide by it or find a middle ground," Ricciardi said.

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