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updated: 7/24/2014 12:43 AM

Will Des Plaines take away city employees' cars?

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Des Plaines Alderman Dick Sayad said Wednesday he thinks as many as eight city-owned take-home vehicles could be eliminated as part of an effort to cut costs -- but isn't going to make any formal proposal until more information is made available.

Sayad, the city council's finance and administration committee chairman, suggested on June 2 that the city examine the use of 15 city-owned cars, assigned to 14 employees and Mayor Matt Bogusz.

At that time, Sayad proposed informally that five cars could be kept and 10 eliminated. On Wednesday, however, he said he's revised his opinion and thinks seven cars could be kept -- those used by the mayor, Police Chief Bill Kushner, Fire Chief Alan Wax, two undercover police officers, a K9 officer and the city's Homeland Security and emergency management agency director.

Sayad also said he'll reserve final judgment on the number of cars to eliminate -- or whether any should be cut at all -- until he and other aldermen are provided additional information by city's staff members.

City Manager Mike Bartholomew said Wednesday that Kushner and Wax, whose departments have most of the cars, have been asked to draw up formal policies spelling out which of their employees are entitled to take home city-owned vehicles.

The council appears split on whether fewer employees should have take-home vehicles. Sayad has questioned whether allowing public safety employees to take the cars home really makes Des Plaines safer -- especially considering the distances some of those employees live. One lives 33 miles from Des Plaines.

On the other side is 3rd Ward Alderman Denise Rodd, who said this past Monday she doesn't see the vehicles as perks, but rather part of the job of department brass who respond quickly to off-hours emergencies.

Seventh Ward Alderman Joanna Sojka suggested that if aldermen do reduce the number of take-home vehicles, they do it gradually.

"It's something we'd need to be cautious on," Sojka said Monday. She said that cutting 10 cars immediately might look great to cost-conscious residents, but, "I don't think it would be the smartest thing without first seeing how cutting one or two cars might affect the departments."

Wax and Kushner want their command staffers to keep their vehicles.

"We're trying to build an adequate command structure to handle the growing incident as it develops," Wax said. When his staffers are "on call" they must be within 20 minutes of Des Plaines, he added.

Kushner acknowledged there was "rampant misuse" of take-home vehicles under past police administrations -- including a deputy chief who took his car golfing and regularly went to the University of Illinois to pick up and drop off his daughter.

Kushner said he stopped those loose practices when he took command in 2012.

"I let everybody know that the cars are limited personal use," he said. "If you've got to stop for a gallon of milk on the way home or pick up your dry cleaning, that's fine. But you're not to go out to dinner with the car. You're not to go out drinking with the car."

Kushner also said he finds Sayad's timing "suspect," since the alderman has been on the council more than 11 years.

Sayad said he wasn't aware of the issue until someone brought it to his attention.

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