Dude, Where’s My (State-Owned) Car?

NO "AND THEN?"!

The rumor, according to a current employee of the Secretary of State’s Office (who, for obvious reasons, wishes to remain anonymous), was that the office had purchased the 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid due to its above average gas mileage, which Secretary of State Mark Martin and/or Chief Deputy Doug Matayo could exploit to drive back and forth to their homes in Northwest Arkansas without racking up huge gas bills that might draw attention.  Cheeky monkeys!

Obviously, this is the type of thing that would get my attention, so I pursued the lead. Enter the trusty old FOIA request.  (The same request that triggered the cost debate, in case you were curious, which you most likely were not.)  As part of my request, I asked for:

1. All mileage and fuel logs for the 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid purchased from Lewis Ford on or about 1/26/11, along with a complete list of all locations where the vehicle has been driven and a list of all persons who have used the vehicle.

When I picked up the rest of my documents, there was nothing to fulfill this part of the request, so I followed up and asked about the omission.  The office’s response?

We don’t keep logs on the vehicles, so there are no documents for this request.

Interesting.  And, by “interesting,” I mean “what the–?”  Still, I assumed that I’d just asked for the wrong stuff or phrased my request poorly, so I followed up with a request for documentation that should tie the people and the car together:

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. […]
5. All records maintained by the Accounting Department that pertaining to mileage or usage of the 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid, license plate 849 PPW.

To which I received the reply:

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.
Item 5 – there are no documents reflecting mileage or usage of 2010 Ford Escape Hybrid

Ooooookaaaayyyyy.

Hmmmm.

Well, just to be totally clear, because I am nothing if not concerned with accuracy, I sent one more request that led off with some questions:

How does the SoS keep track of who has which vehicle if there are no names attached to the gas charges? How do you ensure that no one is putting gas in a personal vehicle and using a SoS credit card to pay for it?  Is there some sort of log that lists vehicle assignments? […]

2. All SoS lists, spreadsheets, or other documentation regarding the borrowing, checking-out, or temporary/permanent assignment of SoS-owned vehicles.

And, the reply:

As I have said, we do not keep logs on SoS vehicles, however, we do have safeguards in place to ensure the credit cards are being used properly.

So here we are.

Now, you may be wondering why this matters.  The answer — predictably, I suppose, given the office we’re talking about — is that there are certain federal tax laws that cannot be complied with absent some accounting of who is driving which vehicle and where/why they are driving it (e.g. without a clear use and mileage log).

“Whatchu talkin’ ’bout, Matt?!” is what you might be asking yourself (if you pattern your speech habits after the late Gary Coleman [/pours out a little liquor]).  Here’s what I’m talking about, you silly Arnold Jackson wannabe: according to the IRS — see IRS publications 15b and 535 — only the business use of a state vehicle is exempt from taxation.

So if, say, you are driving a state vehicle home to Springdale on the weekends, you have to pay taxes on the difference between what it costs to drive your personal vehicle versus what it costs you (read: nothing) to drive a state vehicle fueled with gas paid for by the state.  Without a clear, well-maintained mileage log, how in the world are you going to do that?

[FYI: That last question was rhetorical; you can’t possibly follow the IRS regs without that log. –Ed.]

Yet, according to the Secretary of State’s own statements, they don’t keep logs on the use/mileage of state vehicles.

Ponder that for just a second; if you were to ask the Secretary of State’s Office tomorrow who was driving a specific, state-owned, paid-for-by-your-taxes vehicle or how many miles were on any of those vehicles, they could not tell you, because they don’t feel the need to keep track of such trivialities.  Now recall who was elected Secretary of State in 2010 by the people of Arkansas.

I’m pretty sure it will all make sense to you.

If you are the really, really inquisitive type, or if you are just the type who is obsessive about answers, you may be wondering why the Secretary of State’s Office does not do something as simple as keeping a mileage and usage log for a state-owned vehicle.  After all, didn’t Mark Martin campaign on transparency, stating “the people of Arkansas deserve state leaders who are committed to demanding transparency all the time, not just during an election year”? (Answer: yes, he did.)

Yet, as soon as he was elected, such promise and platitudes were defenestrated faster than a nameless bad guy in a John Woo film.  Nevermind that Ark. Code Ann. 19-4-907 says, in pertinent part, that “[t]he Chief Fiscal Officer of the State may direct all state agencies to maintain records with respect to all state-owned motor vehicles” or that the state CFO has, since 2003, promulgated a regulation that:

Each state vehicle will contain a log that is maintained each time the vehicle is driven. The log should contain the following information: The driver’s name, beginning and ending mileage, number of gallons and cost of fuel purchased, the cost and a description of any maintenance/ repairs, and remarks concerning any problems encountered with the vehicle.

Nope, Sec. Martin was not concerned with that because of an obscure rule in Arkansas Code Annotated 19-4-904 that stated: “The limitations of this subchapter relating to travel regulations shall not be applicable to the constitutional or elective officials and their employees.” That was all Sec. Martin needed; if he didn’t have to keep mileage logs, he was not going to, and I would have expected nothing less.

Oh, sure, it might be absolutely impossible to comply with something as trivial and unimportant as federal tax laws if a constitutional officer opted not to keep a mileage log, but who really cares about that, AM I RIGHT?

/starts to play guitar solo


No "Stairway!" Denied!!

Anyway, in a somewhat ironic twist, the lack of documentation by the Secretary’s office will soon be an even bigger deal.  You see, prompted in HUGE part by the ARGOP’s lawsuit regarding constitutional officers’ use of state vehicles, the recently adjourned legislature — in a bill sponsored by Sen. David Johnson and Reps. John Edwards and Jim Nickels, all favorites of Blue Hog Report — passed Act 1021, which removed the exemption for constitutional officers’ and their employees insofar as

Any employee of the State of Arkansas who utilizes, but whose job does not require the state employee to utilize, a state-owned motor vehicle for transportation to or from his or her permanent residence from or to his or her official station on a daily basis shall reimburse the fund from which the operating expenses of the state-owned motor vehicle are paid at the same rate authorized by the state agency director of the agency employing the state employee for reimbursements for private automobile usage under subdivision (b)(2)(B) of this section.

Because there was no emergency clause on Senate Bill 993, Act 1021 will take effect on July 26, 2011.  Not that Secretary of State Martin’s failure to maintain mileage logs so far is not troubling.  It is.  But it will become an even bigger issue at that point.

Truth to tell, I almost didn’t mention the passage of Act 1021, just so I could wait and see if Sec. Martin changed the office policy as of that date.  However, as Sec. Martin has so generously given this blog so very, very much fodder over the last year, I felt like it was sort of doing him a solid by mentioning the new law to him so that he might comply with it more readily than he’s compiled with old laws so far.

He can thank me later.

HIGH FIVE!

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11 comments for “Dude, Where’s My (State-Owned) Car?

  1. Pingback: Fresh From Twitter
  2. BrownEyesBlue
    May 12, 2011 at 10:10 am

    Stewart needs to be fired, Matayo needs to quit and Martin…well…the Republican Party needs to put him on the next bus or train back to Northwest Arkansas…its the only way to keep Martin from finding himself on a bus headed to state or federal prison and the only way the Party’s next round of state and local candidates won’t be driven over the cliff in a 2010 Hybrid-driven scandal. The Democrats are going to get more mileage out of this than they EVER imagined! Martin is handing the Dems a total free ride for the next elections…unbelieveable!

    • May 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm

      “Martin is handing the Dems a total free ride for the next elections”

      :) Hope so.

  3. dave
    May 12, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I make a motion that “defenestrated” be the word of the week.

    • May 12, 2011 at 10:24 pm

      It’s easily one of my five favorite words. I can’t imagine a need for a verb that was a shorthand way of saying “thrown out a window.”

  4. May 17, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Would you fall under the “news media” FOIA request?

    “Representative of the News Media – People who actively gather news for entities organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. News Media requesters are required to pay for duplication, but are entitled to the first 100 pages without charge.”
    http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/foia/guide.html
    (halfway down the page)

    • May 18, 2011 at 6:44 pm

      That’s for the federal FOIA, but, yeah, I suppose I might there. Under the state FOIA, I almost certainly should qualify for the “non-commercial use” that is “in the public interest,” which would allow an agency to give me requested documents free of charge. But that’s up to the agencies, and the SoS doesn’t seem inclined to do so.

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