Hitching a Ride
March 13th, 2009

The city’s ethics police said today that certain public officials can use their city-funded vehicles gratis even if it’s to run personal errands.

The city’s Conflicts of Interest Board was responding to a request from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the borough presidents, the City Council speaker and minority leader, the comptroller, public advocate and district attorneys. The board said officials with security details could use their city-funded vehicles for personal use without reimbursement. For those without a detail, as long as they are constantly on call, they too can use their ride free of charge.

The caveat for both is that the use cannot create another conflict of interest.

According to the opinion, the board said it would be “unfair” for officials to reimburse the city since they are subject to “security determinations” from the police department. The opinion also states that any parsing of what is or what is not official business, incidentally or otherwise, would be “limitless.”

Though the board said officials could pretty much cruise around town, it is likely the same argument will not hold when it comes to campaigning.

“We are going to review the opinion closely, however in the past generally we have required candidates who use city owned vehicles to reimburse the city,” said Eric Friedman of the city’s Campaign Finance Board.

The city’s campaign finance arm also does not make a distinction between those that participate in the finance system and those that are self-financed (ahem, Bloomberg). In 2005, according to the board, Bloomberg paid the city $19,876 for vehicle use during his campaign.

“Disclosure is disclosure,” said Friedman. “Even if you are not in the campaign finance system the public is entitled to see what resources you used in the course of running for office.”

The Conflicts of Interest Board’s counsel could not say which officials do or do not have security details. When we asked the police department, they said we would have to put in a freedom of information law request to find out.

By on March 13, 2009, 4:52 pm
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