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Prince George’s to create panel to oversee lawmakers’ use of vehicles

Prince George’s County Council member Mel Franklin participates in council meeting Dec. 6, 2016. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

The Prince George’s County Council on Tuesday agreed to create a panel to examine its policy of assigning government-owned vehicles to lawmakers for business and some personal use, which appears to be far more expansive than policies in nearby jurisdictions.

The three-member County Vehicle Use Review Board would have the power to recommend policy changes, propose suspending or revoking driving privileges of individual lawmakers and generate an annual compliance report listing violations, traffic citations and accident reports involving vehicles issued to lawmakers.

The proposal follows the arrest last month of council member Mel Franklin (D-Upper Marlboro), who was charged with driving under the influence after his county-issued SUV crashed into the back of a sedan, sending two people to the hospital.

Franklin also was involved in two collisions while driving a county-issued vehicle in 2012.

Prince George’s council members can be assigned government vehicles that they can take home daily and use for business and incidental personal travel. Council members are required to have valid driving licenses and no more than six points on their records to be eligible for county vehicles. They can refuel free at county-owned gas stations but must pay any traffic tickets they receive.

“Our responsibility is to look at how we operate and ensure that that operation is done appropriately,” said Council Chair Derrick L. Davis (D-Mitchellville), who proposed creating the panel.

He declined to comment on Franklin’s situation or pending legal case.

The decision to review the vehicle-use policy came during an otherwise routine council meeting featuring the annual gavel ceremony. Davis, who has chaired the nine-member council for the past year, was elected for a second one-year term. Dannielle M. Glaros (D-Riverdale Park) was reelected vice chair.

Franklin, who has refused to answer questions publicly since his Nov. 21 arrest, was present during the ceremony but left shortly after, skipping a news conference that is typically attended by the entire council.

Davis, who drives his own vehicle for county business, nevertheless said he understands the appeal of a take-home car, given the demands of the job and the size of the county — some 500 square miles.

“The wear and tear on your personal vehicle is enormous,” Davis said.

Montgomery is roughly the size of its eastern neighbor, but council members there drive their own cars and are reimbursed for the mileage. In Arlington County, board members and the appointed county manager have access to the county’s fleet of vehicles on an as-needed basis, for county business only. Alexandria City Council members have no special access to city vehicles.

Members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors do not have full-time access to vehicles but can reserve cars as needed for government business or for work-related trips. The District of Columbia has a pool of two cars and a van that the 13-member council and its staffers share for official business only.

In Prince George’s, council members can be assigned cars full-time from the county’s fleet of vehicles or seek travel stipends to cover the cost of using their own vehicles on official business.

Franklin was barred from the program after the most recent accident, which badly damaged the vehicle he was driving and the one he struck. Other council members who have take-home cars are Andrea C. Harrison (D-Springdale), Mary A. Lehman (D-Laurel), Obie Patterson (D-Fort Washington), Karen R. Toles (D-Suitland) and Todd M. Turner (D-Bowie).

“The council members, by virtue of being elected, are automatically eligible for a take-home car unless they have more than six or more points or their driving privileges have been suspended or revoked,” said council spokeswoman Karen Campbell.