ATLANTIC CITY — The infamous “council cars” can’t be used by City Council ever again.
Council unanimously passed a resolution Wednesday night banning council members from using the city-owned vehicles. The decision ends a years-long debate over the issue.
The council had planned to vote on a new policy that would have limited council members’ use of the cars for business purposes only. The cars would have had to stay at City Hall, and council members would have had to sign them out and record their mileage, among other rules.
But Council President Marty Small added an amendment before the vote to ban all use of the cars.
“We put forth the strongest policy on record to date, but upon further review I wanted to take it a step further and just ban the council cars,” Small said. “It’s just been so much controversy. People are hurting, and we understand that.”
The council cars have been a sore subject over the years, with some complaining about the cars’ cost to the city and questioning their necessity. In 2012, Atlantic City was criticized by Tom Neff, then-director of the Division of Local Government Services, and several state legislators for spending money on council vehicles. The city spent $63,600 that year to purchase three council vehicles.
The issue was recently resurrected by Senate President Stephen Sweeney. When promoting a bill that would amount to a state takeover of the city’s finances last month, Sweeney cited the council cars as an example of wasteful spending.
Small said the cars can now be redirected to any department, or if possible, sold in an auction or donated to a youth charity.
Council members also urged the administration to follow suit in ending take-home city vehicles. Councilman Jesse Kurtz cited the former state emergency manager’s final report, which recommended rationalization of the city’s vehicle fleet. Councilman Frank Gilliam wanted language added to the resolution to make it apply to all city employees.
The council also passed a resolution appropriating $25.8 million to the city’s temporary budget. The money mostly covers salaries and wages.
The resolution needed a two-thirds vote, and council failed to meet that threshold the first time. There was concern that approving the appropriation without knowing if the money would be available to disperse later may go against state statute. After advice from legislative counsel in executive session, it was determined council could make the appropriation and council approved the resolution by a 7-1 vote.
The council also adopted an ordinance clarifying the code regulating the city’s parking facilities. Most of the rules haven’t been updated since 1998, so some of the terms were outdated. For example, the previous code didn’t clearly define valet parking.
Changes also include allowing rate signs to be larger and requiring them to be in visible locations.