Originally created 10/03/00

Gift request gets rebuke



SAVANNAH - Chatham County employees were asking fleet customers to play Santa Claus for their holiday party - until Tax Commissioner Danny Powers pulled the plug on the idea.

The tag office mailed an unsigned letter in early September to about 300 fleet customers seeking gifts and gift certificates to make the department's Christmas party "extra special."

Mr. Powers said he didn't approve the mailing. He said the request was innocent and shouldn't be considered a solicitation.

"We're not pressuring anyone, that's not our intent. Our intent was to have a gathering for everyone," Mr. Powers said.

County Attorney R. Jonathan Hart said a county policy prohibits employees from seeking gifts or accepting anything valued at more than $25, which "may tend to influence the discharge of duties." He didn't indicate whether the letter violated the policy.

The tag office sent the letter to customers who buy new tags and pay renewal fees by the bulk.

"Personally, I don't think it's a good policy, especially with a county-run office," said Joe Sikes, president of Glenn-Lee Trucking Inc.

As the owner of a company with numerous vehicles, Mr. Sikes considers it a given that the county will process the documents in a timely manner.

"Could they give you a hard time or not cooperate with you in the future (if you don't give)?" Mr. Sikes said.

It's a valid concern, according to Olufunke Bowen, assistant dean for the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at Savannah State University.

"In most cases, the intentions are honest," Mr. Bowen said. "But when there is an appearance and some people work under the perception that 'If I don't do this maybe ..., ' that is a concern."

Mr. Bowen said it would have been less of an issue if the tag office would have accepted whatever gifts it usually receives and used those to give to county employees.