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New Berlin mayor's use of city vehicle questioned

Chiovatero says personal trips in Trailblazer are accounted for

Aug. 9, 2010

New Berlin - A resident's questions about the mayor's use of a city sport utility vehicle for personal trips outside New Berlin may prompt a review by aldermen of the city's vehicle policy.

Shari Bosmans contends that Mayor Jack Chiovatero, the target of a recall, is violating the policy governing city take-home vehicles because he has used the vehicle, a 2002 Chevrolet Trailblazer, for many personal trips, including to the Chicago area, Appleton, Green Bay, Madison and the Wisconsin Dells.

The city's vehicle policy states that take-home vehicles "may not be used for weekend trips, vacations or other extended personal use outside of the city."

But Chiovatero said part of his compensation package as mayor includes use of a city vehicle. He said he is not violating policy because the compensation package wording does not contain language that limits use of the vehicle.

It simply states that in addition to salary and a $100 a month expense allowance, the mayor is awarded "use of a city vehicle."

He said he has conferred with the "city attorney on more than one occasion regarding the use of my vehicle, and I am not violating any policy," Chiovatero said.

Chiovatero said he believes he can use the car within reason, but "I can't take it all over Timbuktu."

Chiovatero said he reports all of his personal use miles on city vehicle logs, and he is required to pay income taxes on the value of those miles.

Bosmans contends that the city's vehicle policy that forbids out of town trips applies to Chiovatero because the mayor is listed on the policy as one of the city employees eligible for a take-home vehicle.

Spurred by Bosmans' questions, the Common Council's Committee of the Whole during a 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday will consider a request for the council to have a discussion about the vehicle policy, including personal use of and mileage reported.

Seeking transparency

Third District Ald. Ronald Seidl asked for the policy to be placed on the agenda "because there's doubt in the community."

The agenda item does not specifically mention Chiovatero or the mayor's use of a city vehicle.

"I'm not accusing the mayor of any wrongdoing," Seidl said. "The question is: Are we following the vehicle policy? The last time we visited it was 2004. We need to get it out in the public so there's no doubt about it. Basic transparency is the issue."

Chiovatero said he believes Bosmans is raising the issue because he is the subject of a recall campaign over an affordable housing project that had been proposed for the City Center.

And he says Bosmans is upset because the city required that her home and others in her neighborhood be hooked up to the city sanitary sewer system. Bosmans had objected because of the expense and because there were no problems with her septic system.

Bosmans said her questioning of the mayor's use of a city vehicle has nothing to do with the recall or sewer issues. She said she began looking into the matter in January after questions were raised about the policy on a blog.

Chiovatero said those behind the recall are grasping at anything to get people to sign recall petitions.

Concerned Citizens of New Berlin in late June launched the effort to recall Chiovatero. The group needs to collect 4,821 signatures by Aug. 20 to force a recall election.

The group wants to drive Chiovatero out of office over his handling of MSP Real Estate's proposal for three buildings that would house a total of 80 affordable residences, termed workforce apartments, and another building that would house 100 senior apartments, all at 14901 Library Lane.

The mayor initially voted in favor the proposal, but withdrew support following public opposition.

Concerned Citizens of New Berlin said lower-income apartments were never envisioned for the City Center. Its members said the city promised upscale shops, galleries, restaurants and higher-end condominiums.

Because of the opposition, the Plan Commission, which Chiovatero chairs, last month rejected the MSP proposal after having given it the go-ahead earlier this year.

Bosmans said she requested copies of Chiovatero's mileage logs from April 2005 through this year. Among the personal trips were 30 to Madison, where one of Chiovatero's daughters attended school; 23 trips to Appleton, where Chiovatero's wife lives; 12 trips to Illinois for family gatherings; Green Bay for a Packers game; and a trip to the Dells.

Chiovatero said he often is in Madison on city business to meet with state officials. However, he lists the trip as personal if he stops to see his daughter.

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