DOUBLE STANDARD: City Employees Exempt
DES MOINES — Just when people are accepting Des Moines’ traffic cameras as just another part of daily life, we explain to them how the citations really work; many city employees don’t have to pay the fine when they break the law while driving a vehicle that’s registered to the City of Des Moines.
“I don’t feel that’s fair,” said Kate Gotschall. Tim Schoh wondered, “So, could (someone from the city) just give me a stern talking to, then?”
Instead of a $65 ticket, the police department issues a letter to the heads of other city departments. Des Moines Public Library Deputy Director Linda Roe received a letter when a public library worker broke the speed limit in a library van. Roe explained, “(The employee) was very embarrassed and felt really bad about the situation and so we just dealt with it.”
Such personnel matters are protected by privacy. So, we cannot know how the employee was disciplined, only that the person did not have to pay a fine. Roe said that she was simply following the city’s rules. “We’ve done it (only) once. So, there really isn’t a big policy that we have on that particular action.”
When we brought the double standard to Des Moines City Councilwoman Christine Hensley’s attention, she said, “Any policy, ordinance, law that we pass needs to be consistently applied to everyone. No exceptions.” Hensley was surprised by what we found. She saw to it that DART bus drivers would have to pay the fine if a traffic camera catches them breaking the law. But everyone else is exempt from the standard-issued ticket. No public works, parks and rec, fire department employees, nor three police officers who were determined to have broken the law without an excuse were issued the citation.
Gotschall said, “If everyone has to play by the rules, then everyone should have to play by the rules, regardless of what your job title is.”
Now that she knows about the issue, Hensley has promised to take charge. She asked the city manager to talk to the department directors and, if they confirm what we found, then Hensley said that they should change the city’s policy to make it fair.
One of the challenges would be to figure out who was driving the city vehicle when it tripped a camera and, therefore, which employee broke the law. However, citations are not issued to drivers, necessarily. They are issued to the individual to whom the vehicle is registered.