Washougal considers stricter city vehicle usage policy

Mayor Sean Guard's legal case remains under review in Kelso

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The Washougal City Council is looking at a proposed update to the city’s current auto usage policy that would prohibit elected officials from taking city vehicles home, while the Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s Office is reviewing the law enforcement impersonation case involving Mayor Sean Guard.

The draft language in the auto usage policy presented during last night’s council workshop mentions officials may use city automobiles for official city business such as conferences, seminars, training programs and other city-related business trips.

During the Jan. 3 City Council meeting, Councilman Michael Delavar said he wondered if it was appropriate for elected officials to be assigned vehicles. Concerns had been raised regarding Guard using a city-owned vehicle for personal reasons. He returned a vehicle to the city’s surplus fleet on Jan. 3. It had been assigned to him in the early part of 2010.

Guard was stopped by a state patrol trooper on Dec. 24, along I-5 near Kelso. Steven Schatzel, a State Patrol public information officer for District 5, said the trooper was responding to a dispatch issued after someone called 911 about a person who was using emergency lights in order to get slower traffic to move out of the left lane.

Guard said the car – a 1995 Ford Taurus previously driven by former Police Chief Bob Garwood – does not have emergency lights. He said he was alternating between the use of no front lights to high beams to get the attention of drivers who were traveling in front of him at speeds lower than the speed limit.

Chief Criminal Deputy Michelle Shaffer said the State Patrol referred the case to the Cowlitz County Prosecutor’s Office for review for possible charges on Dec. 29. She assigned it to Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Jody Newby on Jan. 5.

“There isn’t a time line for when she will make that decision,” Shaffer said. “Often, we have to send a case back to the law enforcement agency for some follow-up investigation or some other additional information.”

Guard was a Camas reserve police officer for approximately five years in the 1980s. At the time of the traffic stop, he was traveling to the South Tacoma area with a woman and two children. Guard has declined to identify them. He said they had been out to breakfast and Christmas shopping.

The updated city vehicle usage policy is expected to be voted on during the next City Council meeting Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 7 p.m., in the council chambers at City Hall, 1701 “C” St.