The city of Washougal is once again in the spotlight- — and not in a good way.
Police, eye witnesses and Mayor Sean Guard have given conflicting reports as to what happened on Christmas Eve as Guard was traveling on I-5, reportedly encouraging slower traffic to move out of the left lane through the use of flashing lights.
What is not in question, however, is that Guard was driving a 1995 Ford Taurus that belongs to the city of Washougal to treat a family in need to breakfast and shopping. Although the act was one of kindness, Guard admits it was not an excursion associated with any kind of city business.
Last week, the mayor called his decision to use a city vehicle to travel to the South Tacoma area that day — some 140 miles from Washougal — an “error in judgement.”
And not only would we have to most certainly agree with him, we also question the need for an elected official to use a city-owned vehicle at all, and call for a review of the city’s polices that specifically allow for personal use of city vehicles even on a “limited basis.”
According to an article in today’s Post-Record, Guard has used the car since early 2010. Records show that he has paid for all gasoline purchases associated with using the vehicle. Driving the vehicle locally likely accounts for only minimal maintenance, but that’s still another expense, even if small, that the city has to pick up.
In a different time in Washougal history, this kind of thing may have been acceptable in city government circles. But in the current economic climate the reality is that cities are cutting expenses, programs and jobs, and struggling to make ends meet. And especially given Washougal’s rocky history with its former mayor and former finance department head clearly abusing their powers as city officials, any actions by the current administration and staff that may appear even remotely questionable should be avoided.
As a result of the debacle, Mayor Guard has now apologized and returned the vehicle to the city’s surplus fleet. But in addition to the lingering legal questions that still surround Guard’s actions during the Christmas Eve incident, which will be answered by the Cowlitz County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, there are other city policy issues that this situation provides a perfect opportunity to discuss and address in a public setting as well.