10:00 PM PST on Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

About two weeks after defending his use of a take-home city car, Riverside Councilman Paul Davis said he’s willing to talk about changing the car policy.

And with another councilman having turned in his city car last month, the balance on the council may have shifted.

A 1982 policy affords council members and the mayor the same benefits as city executives, who can opt for a take-home car and gas card. But no elected officials took home city cars until 2007, when, for reasons that are unclear today, a majority of the council began taking advantage of the perk.

Mayor Ron Loveridge, who drives his own car and takes a monthly vehicle allowance, suggested Feb. 1 that the council end the city car and gas perk. He cited a range of cities, including Sacramento, Santa Ana, Bakersfield and Irvine, that either offer a monthly allowance or reimbursement for travel costs with proper receipts.

But council members wouldn’t bite, and Davis, who drives a city-owned 2009 Ford Escape hybrid, was among those who spoke in defense of take-home city cars.

Davis said Friday that since that discussion, he’s changed his thinking on the issue.

Although he’s not aware of misuse of city cars by the current council, he said, “I think people are looking for that change (in policy) so they don’t have to worry that we would be abusive of taxpayer funds.”

If council members use city cars for personal business, they must report it to the IRS as taxable income.

Davis’ caveat to giving up the cars is that the $350 monthly allowance council members can take instead of the car is too small and should be evaluated. City records show it hasn’t been increased since 2000.

He also doesn’t understand why the mayor’s allowance is $500 and thinks it should be an equal amount for all elected officials, he said.

Councilman William “Rusty” Bailey said he’s comfortable with the current system and finds it more convenient, but he’s willing to take a look at whether the allowance should be raised or if a reimbursement system would be appropriate.

He turned in his city car in January, because he’s running for re-election and wanted to avoid any appearance of using a taxpayer-funded vehicle to campaign, he said. Now he drives his own 1981 Jeep C7 or checks out a pool car from the city for far-away meetings.

“The question we need to ask is, ‘Are we being good stewards of government funds by using these vehicles and the gas and the support that is provided?’ ” he said.

To read entire story, click here.