City official apologizes over take-home car surcharge

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INDIANAPOLIS - The city director who failed to take action on a fuel surcharge now says he's sorry. David Sherman went before a council committee to explain why the city failed to collect more than a $100,000 from city employees driving take-home vehicles.

"I still think the concept is good. I think we need to go ahead and it falls on my shoulders," said Sherman, City Public Works Director, before apologizing at a Department of Public Works Committee meeting April 21st.

Sherman admits he failed to put into place an ordinance that could have pumped more than $100,000 into the city's fuel budget in just the first three months of this year. Now he's apologizing.

"I apologize because as the Chairman of the Board, it was my responsibility to get it done," said Sherman.

In 2008, a wave of cities from Louisville to Albuquerque to Tulsa began collecting a small fee from city employees with take-home cars to off-set rising fuel costs. A similar measure passed in Indianapolis in a 25-4 vote. Even the Fraternal Order of Police got on board.

But the ordinance sat idle.

Sherman says concern about the legality of the surcharge only surfaced last year as unions in other cities put up challenges, forcing some cities to return the money. But council members say those concerns never made it to them.

"I don't think you should be the only one saying, 'I messed up.' City Legal, that's their number one job when we pass something is to pay attention to it," said Dane Mahern (D-City-County Council).

"I'm glad that we didn't enter into the costly litigation and that we had the examples of the other cities," said Christine Scales (R-City-County Council).

"Can the people of Marion County have confidence that when the council passes an ordinance, that that ordinance will be enforced? Or that those legal problems with it will be brought to the attention of the council by the administration in a timely way?" said Brian Mahern (D-City-County Council).

13 Investigates caught up with Mayor Greg Ballard at a Police District Open House.

"It's been three years and nothing has been done with this," Eyewitness News said.

"Well, it just came up. It's not something they look at every day," said Ballard.

Up until now, his city spokesman and the Marion County GOP have been his unapologetic voice, saying the mayor decided not to tax police. We asked Mayor Ballard about his director's apology for inaction.

"That's probably appropriate. I didn't ask him to do that," said Ballard.

Director Sherman says city attorneys will work to address the legal questions.

"I do appreciate the fact that you've kind of looked into this too, because it's kind of helped us to all push forward to come up with a better solution and a better program," Sherman said.

"The Mayor and his legal team have had three years to figure this out, and it's frankly unacceptable," said Melina Kennedy, Democratic candidate for mayor.

Sherman says the surcharge could be in place next year if not sooner, but the Mayor says he doesn't want the fuel surcharge enforced at all.

"I don't think this is the right time to put this additional burden on public safety workers. That's really what it comes down to right now," said Ballard.

Sherman also confirms the ordinance was supposed to take effect when retail prices at the pump hit $3 a gallon. The ordinance is not based on the wholesale price.