LITTLE ROCK The secretary of state’s office does not maintain written records that could help answer questions raised about who has been driving the office’s vehicles and where, but a spokesman said the office has a system in place to make sure state vehicles are not used for personal business at taxpayers’ expense.
Spokesman Alice Stewart said keeping a written log of use of the office’s vehicles is neither required by law nor necessary. Supervisors make sure that any time any of the 23 pool vehicles are checked out, they are being used for a work-related reason, not personal business, she said. A written record is not maintained, she said, becausethere is no need for one.
“The procedures and policies we have in place are working,” she said. “There’s not a problem, so why change what we’re doing?”
Matt Campbell last week questioned on his Blue Hog Report blog charges on the office’s gasoline credit-card statements that the office provided to him at his request. They show that cards were used on several occasions at service stations in Northwest Arkansas, stations which Campbell said were within miles of where Secretary of State Mark Martin and his chief of staff, Doug Matayo, have homes.
Campbell contended that the timing and location of the fuel purchases indicated that the vehicles were regularly used for weekend trips, not state business.
Stewart said Campbell didn’t ask whether Martin or Matayo went home in state vehicles, and said that if he had, she would have told him they don’t.
“It’s hard to answer a question if no one asks it,” she said.
Campbell said he did not believe he would get a straight answer if he asked the question, and instead made several Freedom of Information Act requests for documents.
“Every question I had about why or where someone was driving a state car was met with a half-answer or the statement that there were no records. I have no doubt that had I asked, the answer would have been that they were not improperly using the vehicles, regardless of what the truth was,” he said.
Though the credit-card records do not indicate who made the fuel purchases, Campbell said he thought they “made it pretty clear” that vehicles were being used for commuting, which also matches information he said was given to him anonymously by a former employee of the office.
“When you look at it, it was take off early on Friday afternoon, hurry back to get to work some time on Monday,” he said.
Stewart told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that the office’s vehicles have not been used for commuting or any other personal business by Martin, Matayo, or any other member of the office staff.
Constitutional officers, one of whom is Martin, are not required by law to keep a written record of who is using vehicles owned or leased by their offices or for what purposes, as long as the vehicles are being used only for state business, which sometimes is defined as including travel between home and work.
Under travel rules written by the state’s chief fiscal officer, other state agencies have to log each time a state vehicle is used, including the driver’s name, the amount of fuel used in a trip, mileage, and other information. But under Arkansas Code Annotated 19-4-904, constitutional officers and their employees are exempt from those rules.
The rules governing travel in state vehicles require anyone using a state car for commuting to reimburse the state for that mileage, but constitutional officers are exempt from that provision under current law. That will change when a law passed during the most recent legislative session takes effect July 26.
Even with the exemptions in place for constitutional officers and their employees, personal use of a state vehicle, including commuting, is considered a taxable benefit and must be reported to the Internal Revenue Service.
Stewart said the office has meetings in the northwest part of the state, such as to interview prospective employees or to make preparations for events, but she could not say who was using the cars at those locations, or what state business they were on. She said use of the vehicles would not have been approved by office supervisors unless it was for state business.
Copies of Martin’s and Matayo’s calendars for January, February and March, when the charges were made, give no indication of where they were on the dates the charges were made.
“There’s hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of charges that go on our cards every month, and we don’t break it down as to who did it, and who actually made the charge,” Stewart said. The office has close to 170 employees, 85 of whom are authorized to use a state vehicle if needed.
Twelve of the office’s vehicles are permanently assigned to Capitol police or grounds staff and they may take them home because they are on call 24 hours a day,Stewart said.
Except for those vehicles, “when someone uses a vehicle, they’re not even allowed to have the keys unless it’s for work-related business. So, we’re confident and we know with all certainty that no one’s even given the vehicle,or the keys to a vehicle, or a card for the vehicle, unless we know with all certainty they’re on work-related business,” she said.
In the other six constitutional offices, record-keeping policies for vehicle use vary.
The office of Attorney General Dustin McDaniel keeps a log of who uses its vehicles. Spokesman Aaron Sadler said it has been the office’s “long-standing” policy to keep a record, “thus ensuring good stewardship of state property.” He said every vehicle has a log book where drivers record the date and time of departure, destination, return time and mileage.
Matt DeCample, a spokesman for Gov. Mike Beebe, said the governor’s office checks out vehicles from the Department of Finance and Administration’s pool. That agency keeps a log of vehicle use.
Treasurer Martha Shoffner’s office has a system similar to that of the secretary of state, and employees check vehicles out from their supervisors with no written log.
In Land Commissioner John Thurston’s office, vehicles are checked in and out with a staff member in the office’s fiscal department, said spokesman Nikki Heck. She said the driver’s name, the purpose of the vehicle use, and vehicle information are listed on a dry-erase board that is wiped clean at the end of each day.
The office of the state auditor does not keep a log, and spokesman Peggy Gram said no vehicles have been used for out of town trips since Charlie Daniels took office in January.
Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s office does not have pool vehicles.
Sen. David Johnson, DLittle Rock, who sponsored the legislation to require constitutional officers to reimburse the state for commuting in state vehicles, said that making sure those officials reimburse the state was his primary concern, but that record-keeping might be an issue for the legislature to consider in future sessions.