Only one department complying with vehicle use policy
WAILUKU – While a Maui County vehicle-use policing program has been in place since July 1, only one department – the Department of Environmental Management – is in full compliance, County Council Budget and Finance Committee members learned Wednesday.
The department ranked fourth among county departments, with 97 road vehicles, such as sedans, sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks. Of those vehicles, 42 were taken home by employees before the policy was fully implemented by the department Aug. 1.
After the policy went into effect, the department had only six take-home vehicles, a reduction of 36, for a conservative annual savings of $133,000, or $3,700 per vehicle, said Agnes Hayashi, an executive assistant in the county Department of Management.
Overall, the county’s vehicle policy covers 628 vehicles by all departments, except the police and fire departments and the offices of the County Clerk and Council Services. (Those departments and agencies have their own policies.)
Prior to the overall policy going into effect, the county had 165 vehicles taken home by employees. Now, that number has been reduced to 119. And, of that number, about two dozen have gone through the policy’s process to be approved for take-home use, Hayashi said. Others are in the process of awaiting justification through the processing of documentation.
Department of Environmental Management Director Kyle Ginoza said he has seen no loss in efficiency because three dozen of his employees no longer take home county vehicles.
“I don’t think there’s a decrease in efficiency, frankly,” he said in response to a question from Council Member Don Couch.
Ginoza said he made it a priority for his department to implement the vehicle-use policy as soon as possible.
“Before I took this job, that was kind of one of my pet peeves . . . seeing all these county vehicles on off times,” he said. “As a taxpayer, I didn’t like that whenever I walked my dog I’d see all these county vehicles all around . . . on the weekends and at night.”
But Ginoza said he found it was necessary to allow six department employees to take home county vehicles, because they need tools in the vehicles when they respond to emergencies, such as sewage spills.
“Possibly nothing’s worse than a sewer spill and not responding to it,” he said.
Ginoza said that the policy had a long review process with the departments and unions, so no one was blindsided when it went into effect. He said his department would have implemented it sooner if the policy had been immediately available online.
He said he issued a memorandum that as of Aug. 1 there would be zero take-home vehicles unless they were justified through the new vehicle use policy. That gave employees the incentive to comply because, otherwise, they would no longer have a take-home vehicle, he said.
“As you can imagine, there was quite a bit of resistance in terms of loss of that privilege not having to pay for gas coming to work. In the end, it’s my duty to uphold this county policy,” Ginoza said.
Committee members asked repeatedly when compliance with the policy would come from other departments, which are in “various stages of implementation,” according to Deputy Managing Director David Ching.
A number of “soft deadlines” have been set for departments to comply, he said, and county managers are trying to “coach them into it” and “to get personnel to buy in.”
“The Department of Management hasn’t come down with a hammer yet,” he said.
Council Member Riki Hokama said the vehicle policy was “25 years too late,” and “what disturbs me is I don’t know why we’re coddling employees.
“Either you do your job or get discipline,” he said, adding that the county isn’t asking anything that isn’t already done as policy in the private and nonprofit sectors.
Change is difficult, Ching said.
“In the past, there was very little oversight on who got a vehicle, on what the vehicles were used for and very little tracking and very little real assessment of whether or not that vehicle was actually required to do the job,” he told council members.
County directors and deputies are faced with implementing an unfamiliar policy, making case-by-case determinations that “some of them are really not prepared to do,” he said.
“If you really look at the requirements of our policy, you can almost say that there’s almost no reason to take home a county vehicle,” Ching said. “That case can be made by every single director and deputy out there . . . because we have got baseyards all over the county. We’ve got places that vehicles can be stored and picked up.”
Hokama pointed out that county employees can get reimbursed for mileage if they use their personal vehicles.
Hayashi said the vehicle-use policy does emphasize employees using their own vehicles.
“We do promote it,” she said, adding that that option has been discussed with union representatives resisting the policy and with employees unhappy with the policy’s requirements.
The county compensates employees mileage at an IRS-approved rate of 56.5 cents per mile, she said.
In response to a question of whether he thinks there’s any reason for a department director or deputy to take home a county vehicle, Ching said: “No reason that I can think of.”
One of the hang-ups in implementing the policy has been its requirement that employees using a vehicle conduct a daily inspection of it before it’s taken out and when it’s returned, he said. And that has brought a number of complaints from employees.
They are finding it difficult, he said, to do things like check the oil, see whether the vehicle’s lights are working properly, whether it has dents and so on.
“We’ve had to make instructional videos to show the employees how to do this,” he told council members. “I see a lot of you smiling, but this is real. This is the kind of hurdle that management has to go through to implement something that really is for everybody’s benefit.”
Council Member Mike Victorino said he appreciated the cost savings, but he suggested the extensive requirement for inspecting the vehicle was excessive and came at the cost of employees’ time.
Ching said the inspection should take about five minutes at the beginning and end of the vehicle’s daily use.
“It’s a pretty simple process,” he added.
Victorino did his own math and estimated that with an average county employee earning $40 an hour, including fringe benefits, the six-minute inspections (three minutes at the beginning and end of work shifts) would cost $2 million in lost employee time in a year with 234 work days.
“I always like to see the whole picture,” he said. “There is the other side of the coin, which shows there is time. People have to go and check the oil and the water and the blinkers and the lines and the dents and all the other things.”
He said he thought some of the requirements were “overboard.”
“That’s maybe why you’re getting some of the push back,” Victorino said
He’s heard employees question: “Why we have to do all of this when we have a motor pool to check all of this stuff?”
Ching said the county does have a motor pool for regular maintenance.
“However, it’s nowhere near frequent enough to make sure the vehicles are safe all the time,” he said.
And, “we should check the condition of our vehicles before we jump in and take that 3,000-pound piece of steel down the road,” he said. However, employees and department officials resist the policy because “people just don’t want to comply.”
Some employees have taken the new policy in stride, Ching said.
“Every day I go by Kaunoa Senior Center early in the morning,” he said. “The Meals on Wheels people are out there . . . inspecting their vehicles as I go by. They’ve got the hoods up. They’ve got the lights on. They’re out there with their checklist. Commendable. But then we have other departments that the employees don’t feel that this is a necessary thing for them.”
Ching said the county administration officials are not at the point, yet, where they’re prepared to discipline employees for not complying with the policy.
“We’re trying to train,” he said. “We’re trying to implement in a reasonable manner.”
And, before long, there will be Global Positioning System technology available to track the use of county vehicles, Ching said.
The county is receiving responses to a request for proposals for 200 GPS units for this fiscal year, and the county administration is requesting another 300 for next fiscal year, he said.
The GPS units will “help us pin down real costs and savings,” he said.
Committee members deferred action on the matter.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.