Fairbanks city Mayor Jim Matherly responded to accusations of using a city vehicle for personal use at this week's City Council meeting with both an acknowledgement and an admonition.
The accusation came last Friday from Councilwoman Kathryn Ottersten, who released a statement about the matter both to the News-Miner and on social media. She wrote that the mayor’s use of the city vehicle was not accounted for in the city’s budget or taxed as income, which, she alleged, could be considered a violation of tax regulation.
Matherly said he used the vehicle but was under the impression that using city’s vehicle was part of his compensation package. He said he was unaware that he needed to report it as income.
Multiple mayors have used city vehicles in the same way.
Now that he knows, Matherly said, he has asked the city’s finance team and Chief of Staff Mike Meeks to calculate his tax liability for use of the vehicle. Matherly committed to reporting that information to the council.
“I have used my city vehicle for personal use. I’ve used it. But I also want to say I’m disappointed and I’m very frustrated,” Matherly said. He was informed of Ottersten’s statement indirectly and said it caught him off guard.
“But I’m not very surprised, because it is an election year,” said Matherly, who is seeking a second three-year term in the Oct. 1 election.
For Matherly, the venue of Ottersten’s complaints was important. He pointed out that the council meets with him frequently, at council meetings, Finance Committee meetings and budget meetings. Ottersten, he said, had ample opportunity to speak with him about the vehicle, a 2008 Ford Escape, which had 40,544 miles on it as of Wednesday.
“I serve as mayor, not just during the day, but all the time — 24/7. I don’t get leave. I don’t get comp time,” he said.
Matherly pointed out that his duties as mayor sometimes involve after-hours trips to fires, police issues, evening meetings, and public events. He pointed out that the Escape had a large city logo on the side. “I’m not hiding anything. I drive this car,” Matherly said.
“I respectfully ask that if you have an issue with me, personally, please use the proper channels,” he said.
Ottersten reiterated that she had tried to discuss the issue with the mayor and members of council but said her concerns were not heard. She encouraged the council to “be better watchdogs.” Ottersten publicly supports mayoral candidate Kathryn Dodge.
Councilman Jerry Cleworth, a former mayor, said he personally preferred not to use the city vehicle during his term as mayor. He said the use of the Escape never came up during discussions of the mayoral compensation package but that perhaps it should have.
He pointed out that the job of mayor is a salaried position, doesn't have compensation time, and that it requires attention regardless of the hour of the day. While the vehicle had not been specifically mentioned, Cleworth said the council would have an opportunity to address this part of the mayor’s compensation in future Finance Committee meetings.
Contact staff writer Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcity.