An Inglewood-owned Chevy Tahoe involved in an accident at USC that badly injured a motorcycle officer was a $52,000 lease provided for unlimited use by Mayor James T. Butts Jr., according to public records and city officials.

Footage from the April 30 crash shows the Tahoe turning left toward a campus entrance right before a coupe suddenly collides with it, sending the sport utility vehicle spinning into the officer parked on the sidewalk nearby. The officer was thrown into a fountain and hospitalized. He is expected to make a full recovery.

Butts allegedly was the driver of the Tahoe, which is registered to the Inglewood Police Department, and may have turned left on a red light, according to the Los Angeles Times and other news organizations. The LAPD declined to disclose information about the accident, saying it was still under investigation more than a month later. A public records request for the incident report was similarly denied.

Butts declined to answer questions about the accident. In a brief statement, the mayor would only say he is thankful the motorcycle officer is recovering.

“He has been on my mind and heart since the accident,” he said. “I was grateful to see that he was alert and communicative at the scene. My best wishes to him and his family.”

The Chevy Tahoe driven by Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts Jr. is seen adjacent to a water fountain in Exposition Park near USC where an LAPD motorcycle officer came to rest after he was struck. (Image courtesy of ABC7)

Absolutely inappropriate[hhmc]

Robert Fellner, executive director of the public pay database Transparent California, said he had never heard of a California city leasing a vehicle for its mayor to use 24 hours a day.

“It is absolutely inappropriate, it is a clear giveaway of public funds,” Fellner said. “The guiding principle is, whenever youre using public funds, is this the most efficient use of tax dollars to serve a public interest? A luxury car for the mayor is not that.”

How much it cost[hhmc]

Inglewood leased the Tahoe for $1,500 a month starting in July 2016 and paid $52,380 total by the time the lease expired, according documents provided in a public records request.

Though City Manager Artie Fields says the vehicle was leased for use by “administrative staff and the mayor,” none of the records — including the City Councils approval of the lease — mention Butts as the intended driver.

If Butts had instead used his own vehicle and requested a mileage reimbursement, it would have cost the city roughly $16,000, based on the most recent odometer reading for the Tahoe listed in the public records. That assumes all of the miles were for city-related business.

Inglewood, which is roughly 51% Latino and 41% black, has a median household income of $44,377, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The city has struggled with its finances for nearly a decade. Last year, instead of scaling back, the city quietly took on $36 million in new debt to cover up a deficit, earmarked funds for pet projects and then gave out bonuses and raises to its top executives.

Taxpayers will pay $109 million over the next three decades as a result.

No laws support the purchase[hhmc]

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There is nothing in Inglewoods charter, or any of its ordinances, authorizing the city to provide a vehicle for the mayor. Fields acknowledged this in an email, but said he allowed it because there is no law saying he couldnt.

An ordinance related to auto allowances does permit the police chief, specifically, to waive his allowance in exchange for a city-owned vehicle. The same ordinance authorizes an allowance and reimbursement for the mayor and City Council for using their personal vehicles, but is mum on any other car privileges.

Butts has never requested an auto allowance or submitted any requests for reimbursements related to his personal vehicle, Fields said.

“Common sense and the lack of an enumerated prohibition would tell one that the Mayor would have the same or greater right to use a City vehicle as a department head,” Fields said in an email.

Allowance more appropriate?[hhmc]

Loyola Law School professor Jessica Levinson disagreed. A statutory interpretation of the citys ordinance would likely weigh against Butts having that privilege because the city ordinance specifically grants it to other department heads and not to the mayor, she said.

“I would absolutely see a court reading that to say the mayor does not have an option of having a city-owned vehicle,” she said. “The ordinance, to me, would indicate he gets an allowance, or he gets nothing.”

Levinson also questioned the decision to buy such an expensive vehicle.

“There are plenty of very nice cars that are not at that price point,” she said. “The mayor can spend as much of his money as he wants on a car. He can drive a Maserati, but when he uses taxpayer dollars, everyone should be a lot more circumspect.”

Beyond the price of the vehicle, Inglewood also pays for the fuel and insurance. The Tahoe was “severely damaged” in the accident and Inglewood will bear the cost of repairs or replacement if the city is deemed at fault, according to Fields. The citys insurer may also be responsible for any damages, or injuries, as a result of the accident.

Mayor on call 24/7[hhmc]

An equipment use policy from 2016 states city-owned vehicles may only be used for “official city business.” Fields said he gave Butts permission to use the vehicle whenever he wants because the mayor is the citys chief executive officer and on call 24 hours a day for major crime and other incidents.

Fellner, of Transparent California, said it is difficult to believe the mayor is called out in the middle of the night very often. Even then, he said, there is no reason he cant use a personal vehicleRead More – Source

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