The sheriff's office has policies that regulate the use of marked and unmarked cars taken home by officers. But the county has no formal policy on use of county-owned vehicles by other employees.
That's about to change in light of recent complaints and concerns voiced by council members and residents, who say the cars are being used for personal business.
Councilman Gary Bunker said the board has to draw the line on what's OK and what is unacceptable.
Picking up a gallon of milk on the way home is probably fine, he said.
"You have some very, very reasonable situations where it makes sense to do that," Mr. Bunker said. "But the question is once they take the county car home with them, can they load the family up and go to Ruby Tuesday's?"
He doesn't think so.
Four narcotics officers were fired and another resigned in October after they took a county-owned car to a bar in Richmond County. County Administrator Clay Killian said he doesn't know of any other recent incidents in which employees have been disciplined for misusing county vehicles.
The topic has come up twice at council subcommittee meetings, and Mr. Bunker said it's likely to be up for discussion again next month.
The six-page draft policy explicitly restricts drivers of county-owned vehicles from certain activities while in the car, including visiting bars, violating traffic laws or using it for personal business "unless specifically authorized by their department supervisor."
Personal travel in county-owned cars will be strictly banned.
Councilman Scott Singer said he and other board members do periodically get complaints from residents who "see a county car someplace where they don't think it ought to be."
Most of the time, he said, there's a valid reason the employee drove there.
But because of some improper use of county equipment in the past year, he said, "we want to make sure we have very, very clear-cut procedures and an ethics policy."
Reach Sandi Martin at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
DRAFT POLICY HIGHLIGHTS
Employees driving a county car are:
- Banned from visiting a bar or stopping somewhere to purchase alcohol.
- Prohibited from conducting personal business unless the employee's boss has approved it, and it should be "incidental and on an emergency basis only."
- Forbidden from using their cell phones while driving a county car, although this does not apply to EMS or sheriff's personnel.
- Cannot smoke in county vehicles, and may not wear certain items of clothing, including athletic gear, tank tops, revealing clothing or swimwear.