“Habit rules the unreflecting herd.” –Wm. Wordsworth

I’m not exactly breaking new sociological ground when I say that we humans are creatures of habit. We do the same things, at roughly the same time, on a roughly regular basis. You might not be able to set your watch to any certain behavior, but, on a long enough timeline, you can definitely see these rough patterns emerge.

Which is why, notwithstanding our inability to pin down exactly which vehicle was involved, I followed a hunch that gas credit card receipts might shed some light on the rumor that Mark Martin and/or Doug Matayo were using state cars to travel home on weekends. Recall that, originally, I asked for:

1. Copy of all gas card receipts/slips signed by Mark Martin.
2. Copy of all gas card receipts/slips signed by Doug Matayo.
3. Copy of any gas card receipts/slips pertaining to the 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid, license plate 849 PPW.

And I was told:

For items 1 and 2- there are no gas receipts / slips signed by Mark Martin or Doug Matayo
Item 3 – there are no documents directly reflecting this. We use pool credit cards for SOS vehicles and they are not differentiated.

I thought it somewhat strange that there were no names tied to the use of Secretary of State credit cards, but that’s a story for a different day.   Anyway, I pressed on and requested:

1. January, March, and April 2011 billing statements for all credit cards or “pool credit cards” used by the Secretary of State’s office to purchase gas for vehicles owned by the Secretary of State’s office.

2. All credit card or “pool credit card” receipts submitted to Accounts Payable by or on behalf of Mark Martin or Doug Matayo.

I was told, again, that there was no record of who was using which card at which time — something that strikes me as absurdly haphazard, the longer I think about it — and I received the requested credit statements.

The way it apparently works, there are two gas credit card accounts: one with Exxon Mobil and one with Shell. Under each account, there are a number of cards. On these invoices, the charges are broken out for each specific card on the account, so that each time a card is used, there is an entry for the card number, the transaction date and time, the type of gas, the transaction number, the location of the transaction, and the total cost.

So I went to work looking for a pattern.

It literally took all of about 3 minutes to find one for Shell Card #9.

Thursday, January 20, 2011: 27.04 gallons ($81.12) at 4:27 p.m. at 800 S. Broadway, Little Rock, AR
Sunday, January 23, 2011: 18.685 gallons ($55.29) at 5:29 p.m. at 836 N. 48th St., Springdale, AR.

Saturday, January 29, 2011: 20.721 gallons ($60.90) at 8:31 a.m. at 836 N. 48th St., Springdale, AR.
Monday, January 31, 2011: 11.900 gallons ($35.69) at 9:50 p.m. at 800 S. Broadway, Little Rock, AR.

Thursday, February 3, 2011: 19.823 gallons ($59.45) at 7:21 a.m. at 800 S. Broadway, Little Rock, AR.
Monday, February 7, 2011: 18.943 gallons ($57.40) at 5:53 a.m. at 249 W. Main St., Farmington, AR.

Saturday, February 19, 2011: 12.151 gallons ($37.17) at 9:44 a.m. at 836 N. 48th St., Springdale, AR.

Friday, March 4, 2011: 19.830 gallons ($66.63) at 2:21 p.m. at 800 S. Broadway, Little Rock, AR.
Saturday, March 5, 2011: 6.990 gallons ($23.78) at 10:19 a.m. at 836 N. 48th St., Springdale, AR.

Now, why are these addresses important? Like all real estate, it’s about location, location, location.

800 S. Broadway is the Shell station closest to the Capitol if someone were trying to get to the interstate, and its location would allow a person to fuel up and hop right on I-630.

836 N. 48th St. in Springdale is also adjacent to the interstate. More importantly, it is less than two miles from Doug Matayo’s home, and it is directly on his route from his house to the interstate. (click to enlarge map)

249 W. Main St. in Farmington is the first Shell station that a person would pass if he were leaving Mark Martin’s home in Prairie Grove headed toward the interstate.

Now, combine those locations with the times/days the fuel was purchased, and you get a pretty clear picture of someone (or two car-pooling someones) leaving Little Rock on a Thursday or Friday afternoon, then coming back either Sunday evening or early Monday morning.

Of course, the Secretary’s Office is likely to argue that these trips were proper because of some “business” that had to be attended to in Northwest Arkansas over each of these weekends. If this was a single occurrence, I might buy that.  But this is a pretty frequently repeating pattern, and I can’t imagine the Secretary of State’s Office has THAT much business going on in NWA.

Also, as I mentioned in the previous post, even if the person had business to attend to and drove straight from the Capitol to the meeting, any personal use of the vehicle over the weekend, between the time when the meeting ended and they headed back to Little Rock, would have to be documented for tax purposes.

On top of that, the law is abundantly clear that the Secretary of State’s legal residence has to be in Pulaski County, so any claim that he needed to drive “home” after the meeting should mean that he was driving all the way back to Little Rock (in which case the mileage would be ok, tax-wise). If, instead, he headed to the house he owns in Prairie Grove, that’s not heading home, and those miles are not reasonably related to the business being carried on in Northwest Arkansas, assuming it even exists.

A few other thoughts on this pattern of gas-card usage:

1. Is it just me, or is there a noticeable amount of apparently missed work in this pattern?

2. The single entry for Saturday, February 19, makes total sense if you look at the amount of fuel purchased. While the other purchases are frequently 18+ gallons, the 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid only has a 15.1 gallon tank. However, because it gets between 30 and 34 miles to the gallon on the highway, it could easily have left Little Rock with a half a tank of gas, and the 12.151 gallons purchased on Saturday would have been all that was needed to fill up, use it for the weekend, and still get back to Little Rock without buying more gas.

3. The trail, at least on the credit card statements, gets harder to follow after March 5th. However, there are a number of single-entry trips on Exxon Mobil Card #4 that show fill-ups that fit if a person were driving the Hybrid, though they are not at gas stations so blatantly close to Matayo and Martin’s homes. Instead, they are spread out along the route. While I can’t say that all (or even any) of these were definitely trips to NWA, here are the ones that fit the route, general timeline, and Hybrid fuel amounts:

Monday, February 14: 12.761 gallons at 9:08 a.m. in Atkins, AR.1

Monday, February 28: 14.596 gallons at 6:51 a.m. in Clarksville, AR

Thursday, March 10: 10.645 gallons at 8:58 p.m. in Russellville, AR

Saturday, March 12: 8.230 gallons at 3:49 p.m. in Clarksville, AR (same station as previous Clarksville stop)

The irritating part — well, a second irritating part, on top of the apparent abuse of state vehicles — is that we would not have to resort to this speculation if the Secretary’s Office simply kept mileage/usage logs for the vehicles in their pool.  But, then, who wants to leave that kind of paper trail?

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1 There was also a stop at this station on Monday, January 17 at 3:13 p.m. for 22.122 gallons, which is too much gas for the Hybrid. I don’t have the statement prior to that one to see if there was also a corresponding Friday trip up to NWA.