Steve Berman says a mayor can't win.
He's faced criticism ever since Gilbert accepted a free two-year lease on an F-150 pickup truck from Ford Motor Co., via local dealership San Tan Ford, for use as the mayor's assigned vehicle.
This week it was Chandler Mayor Boyd Dunn's turn, following reports that the city bought a $32,350 Toyota Camry hybrid for his use in the midst of the current economic downturn.
Berman said taking the Ford truck was the right thing for him to do for Gilbert's budget.
"I should have people congratulating me for saving the town $25,000, and instead people are saying that I took graft," he said Tuesday.
The truck replaced a 1989 Dodge Intrepid with a cracked dashboard, which was supplied to Berman under a town policy that gives the mayor the option of taking a town-issued car "to meet the costs associated with transportation to conduct public business."
Under the town policy, the mayor can accept a $500 vehicle allowance, use a town pool car or submit mileage for reimbursement. The mayor can also ask to be assigned a town vehicle, which is what Berman has done.
And since the city considers the truck he drives part of his compensation, the town withholds $300 from Berman's salary to reflect the taxable value of the truck. This allows Berman to use the truck for errands not related to town business, Town Manager George Pettit said, and Berman could get a tax break on trips made while conducting town business if he tracked the mileage separately.
Still, the arrangement is certain to become a campaign issue.
Former Councilman Dave Petersen, who is running as a fiscal conservative against Berman and four others in the March 10 primary, said the town should have bought a car, because the free truck is "more of an advertisement vehicle than a town vehicle, because now San Tan Ford is the hero for coming in and saving the town all this money."
San Tan Ford was the first dealership to open in the Santan Motorplex at Loop 202 and Val Vista Drive.
Another mayoral candidate, Adam Turner, said "it would be an honor to serve the town of Gilbert, and perks are nice but not necessarily needed."
At the same time, Turner said, the tightness of municipal budgets needs to be taken into consideration. "Any time we can save some taxpayer money, that's what we want to do," he said.
The town's two-year lease on the truck is up in May, so it'll be up to who wins the race to request a vehicle or vehicle allowance from the town. If no one wins a majority of the vote in March, the contest will be decided in a May 19 runoff.