Augusta taxpayers have paid more than $6,700 for gasoline for four city commissioners’ private vehicles this year, records show.
Super District 9 Commissioner Marion Williams defended burning the most fuel in 11 months – 641.9 gallons at a total cost of $2,173 – as the cost of providing good constituent service. Other commissioners using city gas cards are Grady Smith, Corey Johnson and Bill Fennoy.
“I don’t have an office; I don’t have a staff. They give us a little gas allotment. I think it’s more than fair; I think it’s justified,” Williams said, en route Wednesday he said to examine a pothole that damaged a voter’s vehicle.
Under a policy written in 1965, commissioners are allotted 125 gallons of gas each month. Since 1998, when the city shut down its fueling stations, commissioners and other city employees have used gas cards. They now have Wright Express cards they can use only for fuel at almost any commercial gas station, city Fleet Manager Ron Crowden said.
Usage is down since 2008, when former commissioners Joe Bowles and Jerry Brigham pushed to limit the monthly allotment to 50 gallons. The effort failed. Back then, seven commissioners used gas cards. Now, only four do.
Williams said the amount he’s purchased – for his 1998 Lexus, his diesel-powered truck or occasionally, his Harley Davidson motorcycle – was miniscule “compared to the stuff we throw away; the things we do so wrong,” while commissioners who don’t use the cards “probably have got plenty of money and don’t need it.”
Based on getting at least 20 miles per gallon, Williams bought enough fuel this year to drive twice to Seattle and back, where he, Fennoy and two other commissioners flew last month for a National League of Cities conference.
“Suppose you had a commissioner that couldn’t get around?” he asked. Super District 9 is the city’s second-largest, at 81 square miles. “I’m out doing what the taxpayers elected me to do.”
Using the second-most fuel is Super District 10 Commissioner Grady Smith, who bought some 460.2 gallons of mostly premium gasoline for $1,785.26. His usage is down from 2012, when Smith bought 780 gallons in 12 months for $2,976.42.
Super District 10 is the city’s largest, at 248 square miles, although 88 of those miles are inside Fort Gordon.
Next is Mayor Pro Tem Corey Johnson, a candidate for state Senate whose District 2 is the city’s smallest, at 11 square miles. Johnson spent $1,443.83 on 483.3 gallons of fuel, records showed.
Smith and Johnson on occasion gassed up during the same dates they were scheduled to attend state training and conferences for which all commissioners are paid mileage.
Commissioners who don’t use the cards said they don’t need them. One of them is Bill Lockett, shown in a recent Augusta Chronicle report to go to training seminars more than his colleagues.
“I’m not in this for the money. If I was, I wouldn’t have completed my first six months,” Lockett said. “I use so much of my own money to be a commissioner. When I go out to schools and talk to young people, I tell them... ‘find a career you’d do even if you don’t get paid for it.’”
Williams and Lockett, who are both retired, acknowledged they spend nearly all their time doing commission work. Lockett said it was his primary occupation.
Commissioner Donnie Smith, no relation to Grady Smith, said it was unnecessary to use the card.
“My district is 13 square miles and I live right dead in the center of it,” Smith said. “When I go out checking on sewer lines and stormwater problems and road problems, it doesn’t cost me a gallon of gas to do that. If I had one of those districts that’s big, I might feel differently about it.”