AVL at center of take-home car debate

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

Photo by Joe Bellacomo

ALBANY, Ga. -- As city commissioners continue to discuss tweaking their vehicle take-home policy, the devices used to ensure city-owned vehicles are used properly are already helping city officials curb risky driving habits.

The Automatic Vehicle Location System, or AVL, was a line item vigorously pursued by Albany Mayor Willie Adams that he said would help reduce costs and misuse of city-owned vehicles by constantly alerting officials where each vehicle is at all times.

And, as some city employees have learned, the AVL goes much farther than just some tattle-tale GPS system. It records other data such as time, date, speed, idle time and more that helps supervisors know exactly when and where their subordinates are.

Tuesday, city commissioners discussed updating their existing take-home vehicle policy which allows 22 city employees to take their work vehicles home with them, as long as they don't live more than 20 miles from the government center.

The concern raised by some on the commission is that broadening the program opens it to more instances of abuse and could increase fuel costs while restricting it may prevent key personnel, such a public safety employees, from being able to respond to incidents both on and off the clock.

That's where the AVL comes into play.

Responding to an open records request issued by the Albany Herald this week, city officials noted at least eight different instances since the AVL units were installed in March 2010 that city employees violated city policy while on the job in city-owned vehicles.

Each incident resulted in either a verbal or written reprimand.

Most of the instances involved speeding by Albany Fire Department personnel headed to emergencies. The AFD has a policy preventing its drivers from driving more than 10 miles over the speed limit while enroute to a call.

One incident involved an Albany Police officer who the system flagged speeding 25 miles over the speed limit in Terrell County on their way back from a sanctioned training event.

Another involved an airport employee who had made several unscheduled and unapproved stops along Highland Avenue.

"Other than topping off his gas in 2 minutes, this trip was wasted driving. My biggest concern, however, is the fact that there is absolutely no airport business on Highland Avenue," an email written about the findings to Southwest Georgia Regional Airport Director Yvette Aehle says. "The area around this motel is well known for drugs and prostitutes and I really don't know why anyone would go there unless they were looking for one or the other."

The scrutiny that AVL is providing is painful for City Manager James Taylor to acknowledge, but, at the same time, is exactly why the city bought it, he said.

"It's important to us, that our employees know that we expect them to follow the policies of the city and the laws of the state," Taylor said.

"And it's also important that the taxpayers know that we have a mechanism in place to watch that the resources they've given us are being used properly."

The AVL isn't just an electric big-brother for city employees. It will also play a key role in the city's ongoing efforts to work in a program known as "Closest Car Dispatch" into the E-911 System.

That component will allow the city's 911 operators to dispatch, with the aid of the city's Computer-Aided Dispatch computer, the car closest to an incident location, rather than just units from the nearest fire or police station.

The CCD system has been touted as a means to reduce response times for first responders.