Paxton's public works department stops providing labor for repair of police department's squad cars

PAXTON — In the wake of the city’s public works department director being charged in Ford County Circuit Court with reckless driving and then being issued a ticket by Paxton police for talking on his cell phone while driving, the public works department has stopped providing labor for the repair of the police department’s vehicles.

The measure, however, is not related in any way to Public Works Director Mark LeClair’s recent legal troubles, Mayor Bill Ingold said.

Rather, Ingold said, it is a result of having two employees of the public works department — including LeClair — on medical leave.

“I just don’t have the guys,” Ingold said Monday. “I don’t know what else to do. I know (Police Chief Bob Bane) wants to make an issue out of it, but it’s not. I just don’t have the manpower.”

Ingold said that being down two employees at this time of the year — when trees are needing to be removed, and curbs and sidewalks are needing to be replaced, among other important tasks — has left him with no other option.

At full staff, the public works department has seven employees, including three water/wastewater workers and four street workers, Ingold said.

In an Aug. 16 email to all seven aldermen, as well as City Comptroller/Treasurer Julie Burgess, City Attorney Marc Miller and Bane, Ingold said that effective Aug. 15, the public works department “will not furnish an employee to service police department vehicles.”

“The public works department is busy with various projects and will be one man short while he is on medical leave,” Ingold said in the email.

Ingold added that the vehicle repair line item in the police department’s budget will be “adjusted accordingly.”

Bane, however, questions the reasons for the measure. He noted that the city has been providing the labor for the repair of squad cars at the city’s tool shed ever since he became chief 11 years ago. The city even purchased equipment to do so — buying a lift and tire balancer — in order to save money on costs of having squad cars repaired by private mechanics, Bane said.

“It’s a waste of tax dollars,” Bane said about now having to return to the practice of hiring outside help to fix vehicles’ issues.

Bane said he has “no money in the budget line item for this type of expense.” Although Ingold said the line item has been adjusted to accommodate the expense of hiring mechanics, Bane said “that’s not what we do for budget and appropriations.”

The measure announced by Ingold came nine days after the 58-year-old LeClair was charged with reckless driving, a Class A misdemeanor, in Ford County Circuit Court. Bane said the incident occurred on April 7, 2016, when LeClair, amid an argument with one of his workers, became “extremely upset.” Bane said LeClair “got into a city-owned pickup truck, started it up, revved up the motor, and then exited the parking lot (at the city’s tool shed), throwing gravel all over (employee Rick) Malivuk, chipping a tooth of his.”

On Aug. 9, Paxton police then ticketed LeClair for allegedly using an electronic communication device while driving a city-owned truck “after normal work hours,” Bane said. Bane said he had personally warned LeClair “numerous times” that he was not exempt from the state law that prohibits the use of cell phones while driving — even if doing so in a city truck.

Location (3):Local, Paxton, Ford County

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