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City considers policy rewrite
Monroe City Hall Sign

MONROE — A recent Facebook post in which the Monroe Fire Department command vehicle can be seen in a photo crossing into Dane County when he was not officially on-call has prompted city representatives to deliberate the policy outlining use of city equipment.

Members of the city Salary and Personnel Committee discussed the issue with Fire Chief Dan Smits at their meeting Oct. 17. Smits was driving the vehicle north along Wisconsin 69 on the morning of Oct. 6 to purchase shoes for his uniform with his wife in the passenger seat. 

Smits told committee members Jeff Newcomer, Brooke Bauman and Michael Boyce that because of the unique nature of his position, essentially a fire chief is almost always on call, whether it’s designated or not. He currently is officially on-call from 7 a.m. each Monday until late Friday evening, he said. 

“I’m OK with that, we’re doing what we’ve got to do, but that comes with the need sometimes to be able to go places,” Smits said.

Otherwise, city employees have to arrange two vehicles when simply going out to dinner with family or have to take a chance that they will need to speed back to their home to grab the other vehicle, he added. His job requires him to be at the site of an emergency as quickly as possible, regardless of his location when the pager goes off, he said.

However, Bauman was concerned that the city-owned vehicle was being used to go outside of the county at a time when Smits was not on-call. She said a large number of residents had complained to her about it after seeing the social media post. 

Smits noted the man who posted the photo and concern over use of the vehicle was apologetic once the situation was explained. 

Boyce noted the city policy, which was adopted in January 2014, has language which prohibits any family members from being transported in a city-owned vehicle unless accompanying the employee to an official function or meeting. He said he did not understand why that was included. All members agreed the policy may require revisions.

City Administrator Phil Rath said city staff had sought out feedback from different department heads throughout the city to evaluate what changes should be made and said staff would include any suggestions from the committee in rewriting the policy.

Bauman said she would like to see specific language indicating which family members are allowed in city vehicles. She called for more clarification throughout the policy language, specifically regarding how “on-call” should be defined and what use is deemed appropriate, like whether buying uniform shoes is “city business.”

The use of an automobile “oftentimes is a perk for individuals who have to be on-call or nearby for emergencies,” Boyce said. He compared the vehicle use to a non-compensation type of bonus for employees. If the city were truly concerned about the location and use of its vehicles, monitoring technology could be implemented, Boyce said. 

“I really don’t think it’s fair to say ‘Hey, you’re in violation of a policy just because we saw it on Facebook,’” he added.