Sheriff, county manager at odds over use of county vehicles

Buncombe County officials are considering policy changes regarding the use of county vehicles after receiving a complaint from the public that Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office deputies were using their patrol cars to take their children to school.

The complaint has triggered an avalanche of e-mail discussion between Sheriff Van Duncan and Buncombe County Manager Wanda Greene, as well as county commissioners. The disagreement also highlights a bigger battle being waged between Duncan — an elected official who serves as the county’s top law-enforcement officer — and Greene, the county’s most powerful administrator. It’s a battle over the administrative functions of a department working to re-establish itself after being tarnished in Buncombe County’s largest corruption scandal, following the arrest and conviction of former Sheriff Bobby Medford on federal charges related to illegal gambling.

Duncan said the policy to allow deputies with take-home vehicles to drop their children off at school in the morning is long-standing. It improves the department’s visibility around schools, Duncan argues, and doesn’t incur any extra liability beyond what deputies already take on if, for example, they transport a member of the public following a traffic accident.

“I realize there might be some potential liability there, but it’s never cost the county any money,” Duncan said. “We encourage our officers to be a presence in schools. We felt like we get enough positive to outweigh the negative.” Duncan said he often drops off his son at Erwin Middle School on his way to work. He asserts that it’s time well-spent, it’s a help to his wife and his presence at school is a positive influence.

Greene said that sheriff’s deputies should adhere to the county-wide policy of barring non-county employees from operating or riding in county-owned vehicles. The existing policy allows department directors to grant exceptions, and it exempts the Sheriff’s Office to allow deputies to offer assistance in emergencies. But in tough economic times, the county should look hard for any cost savings and reduce liabilities, Greene said, and she wants the policy clarified.

“We want the officers to be responsible and be safe,” Greene said.

In another possible cost-cutting change, the county is considering charging county employees for miles driven outside Buncombe County, or forcing employees with take-home vehicles to park inside the county and drive their personal vehicles when they’re on personal business.

The Sheriff’s Office has 19 employees with take-home vehicles who live outside the county. Most live within a few miles of the county line, but two live about 12 miles from the department’s offices on Haywood Street, according to Duncan. He said forcing deputies who live outside the county to park their vehicles at the county line could be a hardship on those officers and leave the vehicles open to potential vandalism.

An advisory group comprised of county employees is reviewing the policy and studying possible changes. It will make recommendations to county commissioners, who will have the final say in the matter. Duncan said he would stop the practice of allowing his deputies to drop their children off at school if Greene could show that the issue would cost taxpayers more money in liability insurance. Greene said it would cost the county $100,000 to $500,000 more a year in insurance premiums if the county changed its policy to allow the practice.

The Mountain Xpress interviewed Duncan on Sept. 18, and Greene a week earlier. Following his interview, Duncan notified the Xpress that he planned to alert other media outlets regarding this story, to ensure that his side was told. Check back with Xpress for more developments.

— Jason Sandford, multimedia editor

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27 thoughts on “Sheriff, county manager at odds over use of county vehicles

  1. cwaster

    Yet another unfortunate effect of the ridiculously high gas prices. I think the officers should be allowed to continue to drop their kids off.

  2. Wanda Greene – Wrong on Parkside. Wrong on secret meeting with Progress Energy. Wrong on so much.

    It’s time Wanda got her walking papers.

  3. nuvue

    Come on,
    If they are out buzzing around off hrs, that is one thing, but dropping kids off on way to work is what everyone does. Or stopping in on the way home for groceries or whatever….big deal.

  4. Rob Close

    this seems like a waste of time. no change of policy needed. i mean, we could change the insurance policy and MAKE ourselves pay that extra money, but we aren’t paying it now it seems, so…there is no savings (but only cuz we’re kinda scamming the insurance companies?)

  5. Leave em be

    Much ado about nothing. What’s the big deal about the deputies dropping off or picking up their kids on their way to or from work? As the article said, more presence which is a good thing. This is especially true if something were to happen at the school they are going to–they are that much closer. Sounds like inter-departmental jealous within the County rearing its ugly head to me.

  6. Cheshire

    If they’re worried about gas consumption, they should allow them to continue dropping their kids off. Otherwise, they’re going to have to take one car, take the kids to school, return home, switch cars…it’s a pointless trip.

    Come on, county: multitasking is where it’s at! PR exposure, lead-by-example fuel conservation, and noticable police presence. What part of this is undesirable?

  7. LOKEL

    Mr Duncan says it is “never at a cost to the County…”, who pays for the gas in those cars? we do!

    At a time when gas is so high and budgets are stretched why does anyone see this as being ok?

    Why can’t a Sheriff come get my child and take him to school?

    Increased visibility my arse!

    And why do we allow folks to drive these cars to their homes OUTSIDE Buncombe County…. and what counties are they driving to on the taxpayers dime? Funny how that part isn’t included in the story.

  8. bobaloo

    Dear Wanda Greene,
    It appears you are a nitpicking shrew. Please focus on something important.
    Regards,
    Bobaloo

  9. Bryan Freeborn

    I guess Wanda has already spent the tax increase she and the county commissioners gave us in 06.

  10. Reality Check

    The presence of a police car is a crime deterrent all by itself. That’s certainly not a bad thing near a school. I have no problem.

  11. cwaster

    Nice to see most of us agreeing on something except the usual people who disagree. You know, officers don’t get paid enough as it is for the job they do. It’s a hard and dangerous job, so I think letting them drop their kids off and drive home is fine.

  12. Serenity Now

    Are we not already paying for the gas to drop their kids off at school using the Public School systems method of transportation… the BIG YELLOW SCHOOL BUS????

  13. Rippy

    It’s not clear to me why the deputies take the cars home in the first place. Do city police officers take their cars home? Do the EMS guys drive the ambulances home? Not taking a side here – just asking.

  14. Rippy, just simple logic … it’s a big county and a lot faster for deputies to respond from where they live than have to drive into town, check out a car, THEN get to the scene of a crime. This practice has been in effect for decades and it is both logical and good for law abiding citizens, bad for the law breakers.

  15. Rippy

    “just simple logic … it’s a big county and a lot faster for deputies…”

    Then wouldn’t it be simple logic for the EMS guys to take the ambulances home, the firefighters to take the firetrucks home, etc.? There’s a reason they don’t – it would be interesting to know their policy and the thinking behind it.

    I’m not dead set against deputies having cars after hours – it just might be something that’s more of a tradition than a real need. I don’t think that’s the actual issue here anyway.

  16. Jason F

    I guess to save gas we should have the deputies park and wait for a 911 call, instead of patroling neighborhoods. That would save lots of gas. Of course we could hook Wanda up to a pump……..

  17. Jason F

    Anyone realize that these guys are responsible for the ground at the base of Pisgah to the base of Mount Mitchell??? With less than ten or so per shift to cover it. Rippy, does that explain it? Or should I copy a link to a map for ya?

  18. and huge mountain valleys from Big Sandy Mush to the Coleman Boundary. … this is a HUGE county and you out in the mountains you can’t git from heah to thar in a straight line, you gotta go around mountains and through gaps and hollows.

    city folk have no idea. ;-)

  19. Also, Rippy, this is another example of people not understanding the difference between city and country:

    you’ve got all the volunteer fire departments out in places around the county with first responders that can get there quick. There are, counting these heroic folk, literally hundreds of EMS and fire responders in the county … as Jason said, there are only a few sheriff’s deputies on shift and to expect them to get from Asheville to many of the remoter mountain areas quickly is simply unrealistic. For decades, sheriff’s deputies have parked their cars at home … let’s not change a system that works.

  20. Rippy

    Yes it’s a big county – and are 19 deputies that have take-home cars out of a fleet of 172 vehicles (according to the Sheriff’s web page). Are those 19 vehicles really first responders? If you call 911 don’t they just send one of the 153 vehicles that are not at someone’s house? I mean, how busy could those 19 cars be if they have time to drop their kids off at school? I don’t know…maybe they are out zipping around the county like Batman…I don’t care whole lot one way or the other, it’s just good to ask sometimes.

  21. Quinky McFurklepuss

    Not an issue to me. At all. Let them drop off their kids. The kids see police as “normal” people and it builds a positive relationship with them. The parents see police presence near the kids which is positive. Wanda is wrong.

  22. Hugh Jass

    Sounds like Wanda is using the old standby: A good defense is a good offense. What has she screwed up that she wants to keep the focus off of by making a mountain out of the Sheriff’s molehill?
    Someone should take a good long look at her, her budget, her nepotism, her lack of leadership ability. You’ll find your answer… and it has nothing to do with Sheriff Duncan.

  23. September Girl

    I finally read this article thinking it was going to expose some flagrant misuse of government policy, but it kinda sounds like Greene is just bored. I like seeing sheriff’s vehicles around the schools and I can’t imagine how it would serve ANYONE to have cars parked at the county line. UGH. Don’t we have real problems to solve in this community?

  24. Tweety Bird

    This was planned by some Democrats, a Rebublican, Wanda and flip-flopper who wants to be Sheriff.

    We need a shake up on in the County and Wanda needs to go.

    I know people who have called her little hotline and reported the Tax Adminstrator playing golf on County Time. Nothing ever came of that. I also know that.

    Wanda is just mad because she can’t control the Sheriff.

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