Preckwinkle Seeks Accountability in Use of County-Owned Vehicles
Settlement with Chicago on years of tickets called ‘long overdue’
The Cook County Board of Commissioners today approved a settlement with the City of Chicago for more than 20 years’ worth of parking and traffic violations accrued by County employees who were driving County-owned vehicles.
The settlement with the City, at a cost not to exceed $41,640, was the product of lengthy negotiations and is “long overdue,” said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. The Board approved the settlement amount as a one-time payment and also authorized the County to get monthly notices from the city for future traffic violations by County vehicles.
“This was largely a legacy issue we inherited that had never been properly resolved,” Preckwinkle said. “Some of these tickets were almost 25 years old. The appropriate thing to do was to get a full accounting of what we owed and why, clear the books, recoup for the County whatever funds we can, and set up a workable system for handling such violations in the future.”
Preckwinkle instructed the fleet manager within the County’s Bureau of Administration to first determine the backlog of violations that were pending and then to work with the Chicago Department of Revenue to resolve the matter.
The settlement removes any fines and penalties that had been attached to the tickets and will bring the County up to date for all violations issued through last month.
It includes 773 tickets for speeding, illegal turns, red light violations, parking in restricted zones or at expired meters, and invalid vehicle registrations. Of those 773, Fleet Management has identified the vehicles used in 660 of them, as well as the department which used the vehicles when the violations occurred (113 of the vehicles are no longer in the County’s data base).
Fleet Management has sent notices to those departments in which the tickets originated, and those managers are to investigate who was using the cars when the violations occurred and then contacting those individuals in an attempt to recoup for the County the cost of the violations. Under the County’s Vehicle Use Policy, employees are held personally responsible for all parking and/or traffic violations incurred while operating County vehicles. Consequently, each violation subject to the settlement is the responsibility of the employee driving the vehicle when the citation was issued, and that employee must reimburse the County for any fines.
Preckwinkle acknowledged that given the age of some of the violations, it is likely a number of the employees no longer work for the County. But, she pointed out, 209 of the violations, more than a quarter of the total, have been incurred since 2010 – 126 of them this year alone – and in those cases, the County is determined to recoup that portion of its payment to the City.
By getting monthly consolidated notices for future violations, the County will be able to quickly determine the vehicles that were issued tickets. With that data in hand, Fleet Management will identify the departments and, through the departments, the employees involved.
“For too long, no one – neither the employees nor the offices or departments in which the employees worked – were seemingly accountable for these violations,” Preckwinkle said. “Accountability is one of our governing principles, and we will take the needed steps to establish a system of accountability that is applied consistently.”
Fleet Management was created by President Preckwinkle under the Bureau of Administration in 2013 and charged with reviewing the assignment and use of the County’s vehicle assets and recommending efficiencies and cost-saving measures.
As a result of the division’s work, the County’s fleet of vehicles has been reduced by almost 50, vehicles that are no longer needed have been salvaged, a “Shared Fleet” has been created, and fuel use and mileage reimbursement to employees have declined. Altogether, the County achieved a cost savings of about a quarter-million dollars in the program’s first year.
Preckwinkle also said the County has begun moving portions of its Shared Fleet to more energy-efficient vehicles as it “retires” and salvages older cars. This summer, the County took delivery of two electric cars and three hybrids for the Shared Fleet. The County plans to add another 10 “alternative fuel” vehicles to the Shared Fleet over the next two years.