Mayors' rides

In times of big budget cuts and layoffs, you pay big bucks to keep Memphis and Shelby County Mayors riding in style. In Memphis and Shelby County, the job of mayor comes with a car, but no where does it say what kind of car. We found taxpayers are shelling out big bucks for some pretty sweet rides. When Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton hits the road, he does it in style, in a $57,000 Cadillac sedan leased for the Mayor by the cash-strapped county in April 2004. Deidre Malone, Shelby Co. Commissioner said, "He is the Mayor of Shelby County, and we want to make sure that he's transported safely in a safe vehicle, but I do think we need to be conservative when we look at our leases for our cars." In this case, county records show taxpayers foot the $1,220 monthly bill for the Mayor's Caddy. By the time the two year lease is up next April, taxpayers will have shelled out more than $33,000. Malone said, "I know this Mayor and this administration really tries to do a good job at looking at the bottom line, but in this case it looks like he could have, you know, probably done a better job." Considering the county's current budget crisis. Mayor Wharton refused our request for an on camera interview, but sent us this statement: quote, "As is the case with all expenditures, we are constantly searching for areas in which savings and efficiencies can be achieved. This particular lease is no exception. As a matter of fact, CAO John Fowlkes, prior to this inquiry, began research to ensure that the County is getting the best deal possible in the circumstance." Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton told us taxpayers got a good deal, too, on this nearly $59,000 Cadillac Escalade SUV. The city leased it for the Mayor in February 2004 for $1,132 a month. The total cost to taxpayers over the two year lease, nearly $29,000 dollars. Jack Sammons, Memphis City Councilman said, "What we're living in now is extraordinary times, and I think it appears to me that we're not doing a very good job in our purchasing department in acquiring an automobile." An automobile complete with a navigation system and DVD player. Sammons said, "I think that's the message Council is asking for these days is if we can't cut the grass on the medians, hopefully we'll be able to spray for mosquitoes, but if we can't do things that are indicative of a quality of life in Memphis, then we've got to drill deep into every dime we spend." Mayor Herenton also turned down our repeated requests for an on-camera interview, but pointed out the Cadillac lease was cheaper than the traditional Ford Executive lease program used by the city in previous years. Herenton told us, "What you need to understand is that we've been in this program for 13 years and dropped out because we got this agreement cheaper." Sammons said, "When this lease is up, I suspect the Mayor will be a little more critical in his acquisition of a vehicle." The Mayor is scheduled to turn back his Caddy in February. Mayor Wharton's lease is up next April. We're told the issue of the car lease will come up at this week's County Budget hearings. Budget Chairman Cleo Kirk said the other day he'll have some tough questions for the Administration.