A simple public policy meeting or the first salvo in the battle for the Gilbert mayor's job - either way, the discussion Tuesday about the policy for reimbursing the holder of that office for travel expenses will be closely watched.
Providing the mayor with a town-owned car has created friction in Chandler, which in October bought a $32,350 Toyota Camry hybrid for Boyd Dunn to drive, as well as in Gilbert, where Steve Berman has driven a truck leased to the town for free by Santan Ford for the past year and a half.
Gilbert Town Councilman Don Skousen said he had the topic put on next week's agenda in light of the criticism Dunn faced over the car he chose at a Toyota dealership, which has almost $5,000 of options including a moon roof.
Skousen is running against Berman in the March 10 primary and said there are advantages to settling the issue before the next mayoral term begins.
"In my view, the election is coming up, and we don't know for sure who is going to be installed as mayor, so nobody can say we're feathering anybody's nest," he said.
All Town Council members are eligible to be reimbursed for transportation costs. The mayor can choose to either use a town-issued car, be paid a monthly vehicle allowance, check a car out of the town fleet on a per-trip basis or submit for reimbursement for mileage on his own car.
Town Council members can choose any of these options except the town-issued car, and all six currently receive a $360 monthly transportation allowance. The mayor is eligible for a $580 monthly allowance if he or she does not take the town-issued car.
Berman said he thinks the decision should be left for whoever the next mayor is, but "it's not something I'm going to go to the mat for." Besides Skousen, four other men are running against him in the primary.
Berman said that before the policy allowing him to take a town car was adopted in 2005, he would check out town vehicles for meetings, and often had to drive back to Town Hall at night to pick up his car, then go back there the next morning to check the car out again.
At heart, he said, is the matter of the image the mayor's car projects, whether it's on the high or low end of the price spectrum. "What do people think when the mayor drives up in a Lexus or a Mercedes, whether or not it was paid for by the town?" he asked.
The Ford F-150 donated to the town for a two-year lease in May 2007 has not been free to the town, according to a staff report. Gilbert paid $9,860 for fuel, maintenance, claim settlement, licensing and other costs during the 2007-08 fiscal year, a memo from Town Manager George Pettit said.
Mayoral candidate Dave Petersen, who served one term as a town councilman, said it doesn't matter to him much whether the mayor drives a town car or takes a vehicle allowance. "I don't care how it's written, just don't make a policy that can appear that a private company can benefit off some part of that, that's all," he said.
Another mayoral aspirant, John Lewis, said he needs to investigate the situation further, but "I would say the best policy would be to lead by example, without looking at any added perks."