City takes away phones, cars

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By David Giuliani

Mayor Tony Marquez last month asked the city administration to reduce the number of take-home cars and city-issued cell phones.

This week, City Manager Sharon Caballero presented a plan on how the city could achieve that goal.

However, one official said he wasn’t notified about the city’s decisions before they were announced. He said his office needs a car.

The city has 41 cell phones — 12 of which are for the Police and Fire departments. Officials agreed that none of the public safety phones should be taken away.

Of the remaining 29, Caballero said the city would get rid of 10 — four from the utilities department and one each from the community development, finance, human resources, municipal court, executive and recreation departments.

That could save the city $5,300 a year, she said. The one from the municipal court has been costing $1,000 a year, Caballero said.

As for the city’s 43 take-home cars, 31 are assigned to police officers and firefighters. The city administration doesn’t want to change the status of vehicles for public safety.

Of the 12 others, Caballero told the council that the city could reduce them by four — one each from the municipal court and the human re-sources, public works and executive departments. Those cars would be reassigned to the general motor pool. “We have a great need for them,” Caballero said.

Generally, the city chose to take the cars away from people who are paid better than others, she said.

Councilwoman Diane Moore said the city had to make some tough decisions.

“People were probably upset,” she said.

Moore said she didn’t want the cars that were taken away assigned to other employees, which could result in charges of favoritism.

Mayor Tony Marquez said Caballero exceeded his expectations. He said that because of the declining economy, the city needs to make a serious effort to reduce unnecessary expenses.

In an interview Thursday, Municipal Judge Eddie Trujillo said he wasn’t informed about his office’s loss of a take-home car or cell phone, saying he didn’t know about it until a reporter called him.

“They should have the decency to let me know,” he said.

Trujillo said he’s willing to be a team player and pay for his own phone because of the economy.

But the judge said his office needs the car. He said his clerk uses it for deposits and trips to the Police Department and magistrate court, among other places.

Trujillo said the city’s insurance provider suggests having employees use city cars because there’s less liability if there is an accident.

“I won’t allow my employees to use their personal vehicles. The city has enough lawsuits against it,” he said.

The car became a subject in the 2006 municipal judge election; both of Trujillo’s opponents questioned whether he needed a take-home vehicle.

At the time, Trujillo defended having the car, saying he takes quite a few trips for Municipal Court business.

Trujillo said Thursday that he hasn’t used the car in months.

He said he hoped the city wasn’t making its decisions based on personal feelings.

“If it’s personal, I have a big problem with that,” the judge said.

The mayor said later Thursday that even the council had no idea who was losing phones or cars until the meeting.