Statement from Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald:
When I took office on January 3, 2012, the odometer of the 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee assigned to me had 74,288 miles. I turned that car in today with a 150,605 reading on the odometer. The difference is 76,317 - at .56 a mile, the current IRS reimbursement rate, that cost is $42,737.52. Today, I have submitted a personal check for that amount to the County Treasurer.
To be clear, I am voluntarily reimbursing the county for every single mile driven in this vehicle since I became County Executive because I am committed to doing everything within my power to strengthen Allegheny County instead of focusing on responding to calculated political attacks.
That vehicle, as well as the county-issued gas card, was given to the County Manager this morning and will be returned to the Department of Public Works vehicle fleet. Starting this past weekend, I began using my own personal vehicle for all traveling, and will continue to do so for as long as I serve as County Executive. I will incur all costs for travel, gas, mileage and wear and tear on the vehicle myself.
I take very seriously my role as Allegheny County Executive. I spend every day trying to improve the business and economic climate of our region so that we can create jobs for our hardworking residents, to hold the line on taxes and make county government more efficient, while making decisions and choices that improve the quality of life for our residents. Anything that takes our focus off of doing our job on behalf of our residents is a waste of time. That is why I made the decision to write a personal check to the county, return the vehicle and gas card, and begin using my own vehicle. There is too much work to be done for us to be sidetracked by petty political arguments.
The recent news coverage has brought to light several conflicts between the County Ethics Code and county policies regarding take home vehicles. Consequently, I will be submitting legislation to Allegheny County Council to amend the Ethics Code to ensure that the language corresponds with the policy and IRS regulations that we have been following.
In line with that, I have also directed the County Manager to review the list of take-home vehicles that are assigned within the County and to make determinations as to whether such assignment is necessary or appropriate. Based on that review, I expect that there may be employees who will no longer have take-home vehicles and that will instead by utilizing pool vehicles. The County Manager will also be reviewing the policies related to pool vehicles, logs and other usage and may be making any appropriate changes, if necessary, to strengthen those policies as well.
We have made great strides here in Allegheny County over the past few years but there is still much more work to do. I owe it to every county resident to continue to remain focused and work day and night on the issues that matter. To that end, I will not let petty politics distract me from my work to create jobs, grow our local economy and build a stronger, more vibrant county.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald handed over the keys to his county-provided Jeep and cut a personal check for about $42,700 Wednesday to put to rest accusations he misused the vehicle, he said Wednesday.
The amount, which equals about half his annual salary, is more than enough to buy a new, mid-range 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokee, according to Kelley Blue Book.
Fitzgerald said he will use his own late-model GMC Acadia for all county business and pay for gas, miles and maintenance himself.
“Let’s move on,” Fitzgerald said in a telephone interview.
County Controller Chelsa Wagner last week accused Fitzgerald of using the county’s 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee to attend at least 100 political and personal events. She demanded he repay the county for miles logged for those purposes. Wagner does not have a county vehicle.
Wagner said Fitzgerald’s repaying the county for miles logged in the Jeep signaled to her that he agreed with the conclusions of her audit.
“With respect to what I announced last week, the findings that he had misused the vehicle and my duty to recover any misused funds, I believe that repayment certainly satisfies that end of it,” Wagner said.
Fitzgerald said he conducts county business at events and called the accusations “calculated political attacks” and “petty political arguments.” He said he could justify each of Wagner’s 100 examples “without any problem.”
Wagner requested “a detailed report” of Fitzgerald’s vehicle use, including dates, times, origins and destinations, and whether each trip was for business or personal use, according to a letter she sent him last week. The report was to include nearly 20,000 miles not included in Fitzgerald’s logs. She said he owed at least $13,000.
Fitzgerald said he realized it would take months and months for him and his staff to sift through the thousands of meetings and events he attended since taking office in 2012.
“It became a distraction,” Fitzgerald said. “My job is to do my job, not to worry about logging miles, documenting every meeting I have and what we’re talking about.”
When Fitzgerald took office, the Jeep, previously used by former county Executive Dan Onorato, had 74,288 miles on it. Wagner said records reviewed from past administrations did not raise concerns.
When Fitzgerald turned in the Jeep on Wednesday, the odometer read 150,605 miles. He wrote a personal check to the county Treasurer’s Office for $42,737.52, or 56 cents — the IRS reimbursement rate — for each mile he put on the Jeep.
The Kelley Blue Book lists the vehicle’s value at about $8,500.
Fitzgerald’s check will go into the county general fund, according to the treasurer’s office.
The check won’t be a significant blow to the Fitzgerald family finances, Fitzgerald said. He wouldn’t say how much he is worth.
As county executive, Fitzgerald makes $90,000 annually. He lists on financial disclosure forms that he gets income from Aquenef, a water treatment and service company he started, but the forms do not indicate how much. His Squirrel Hill home is assessed at $462,300. Campaign finance records show he contributed $800,000 to his own campaign in 2011.
Fitzgerald said he will submit legislation to council to clear up conflicts between county policies regarding take-home vehicles and the county’s ethics code.
County, state and federal prosecutors have said they will not seek criminal charges related to Wagner’s accusations. Fitzgerald said officials in those offices contacted him about Wagner’s accusations.
“And they were laughing,” he said. “This was never a problem.”
Wagner said she and District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. had “in depth” conversations about Fitzgerald’s vehicle use.
Wagner sent information relating to the vehicle to the Pennsylvania State Ethics Commission. Robert Caruso, the commission’s executive director, would not comment on whether the commission is investigating. Fitzgerald said no one from the ethics commission contacted him or advised him to turn in the Jeep and pay for the miles.
The commission typically orders public officials found in violation of state ethics rules regulating the use of government resources to make complete restitution, Caruso said, speaking about cases in general.
Fitzgerald started driving his Acadia to events during the weekend, he said. The SUV, with a bike rack attached to the back, was parked at the county courthouse Wednesday. A county police officer will drive Fitzgerald during the day, the same arrangement as with the Jeep, spokeswoman Amie Downs said.
Fitzgerald said his wife, Cathy Fitzgerald, a pharmacist, had been driving the Acadia and will get a new car.
Aaron Aupperlee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-320-7986 or firstname.lastname@example.org.