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City picks up gas tab for Fayette jailer

Over the past four years, the city of Lexington has paid more than $15,000 for the director of its jail to drive a city vehicle to and from his Louisville home, city records show.

Ron Bishop, who has been director of the Fayette County Detention Center for four years, has a city-owned 2006 Ford Crown Victoria that he drives to his home in Louisville each night.

Until recently, he was the only city employee allowed to drive a city-owned vehicle to his home outside of Fayette County.

Bishop said he negotiated the take-home car and the gas arrangement when he was hired by the previous administration in 2004. City leaders knew he lived in Louisville and didn't plan on moving to Lexington.

"It is what I negotiated when I took the job," Bishop said. "It is what it is."

City officials don't dispute Bishop's claim, but there is no written contract between Bishop and the city in his personnel file, which the Herald-Leader obtained through an open records request.

Susan Straub, a spokeswoman for Mayor Jim Newberry, said the deal between Bishop and the city was a verbal agreement hammered out when Bishop was hired in 2004, during previous Mayor Teresa Isaac's administration.

Straub said Bishop is only allowed to take the car to and from work. He can not use the car for personal business while in Louisville.

Bishop, who is paid $111,793 a year, heads a jail that has had its share of problems over the past two years.

Five former corrections officers were indicted on charges that they abused inmates or were part of a scheme to cover it up. All five have pleaded not guilty. A trial has been set for June.

The city also recently settled a lawsuit for $1.15 million brought by current and former corrections officers over meal breaks and overtime pay.

Bishop's gas bill dwarfs that of other jail staff and some city leaders — including Mayor Jim Newberry and former jail administrator Don Leach.

During the same four-year time period — Aug. 11, 2004, to July 2008 — Leach, who lives in Fayette County, charged the city $3,834 for gas. Bishop charged $14,797, according to information about take-home cars the Herald-Leader obtained through an open records request.

From July 2004 to Aug. 28, 2008, the last date available, Bishop charged $15,093.

A take-home car is the norm for jail administrators of detention centers of similar size, corrections officials say.

But many jail administrators have to repay their employers for some uses of that vehicle, especially after gas prices skyrocketed earlier this year.

Tom Campbell, who recently retired as Louisville Metro Community Corrections Center director, and others in Louisville city government with take-home vehicles have to repay the city $30 per month for gas they use for personal reasons, said Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Louisville Mayor Jerry Abramson.

In Shelby County, Tenn., where the Memphis jail is located, the jailer is issued a car but the use of that car is restricted.

"He uses the car for business purposes: meetings, speaking functions, jail incidents, etc," said Steve Shular, a spokesman for the Shelby County Sheriff's Office, which oversees the jail.

"The gas is paid by the county," Shular said. "There are, however, triple safeguards for the use of the pumps. Additionally, there are frequent checks and audits regarding the use of fuel."

The jail administrator for St. Louis County in Missouri also has a take-home vehicle. The county pays for Roy Mueller's gas for county business.

"If I go out of town, I'm expected to put my own gas in it," said Mueller, the director of the St. Louis County Jail.

Mike Sweeney, president of the Bluegrass Lodge No. 4 of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he doesn't understand why police officers and firefighters have to reimburse the city and Bishop does not.

According to the most recent contracts with police and fire, officers can take cars home if they live in the surrounding six counties. But they must repay the city 25 cents for each of the first 10 miles. Any additional miles after the first 10 must be repaid according to federal reimbursement rates for gas.

Sweeney said the city should reconsider the gas agreement with Bishop in light of the city's uncertain finances.

Newberry has said that he may have to lay off police officers and firefighters after the police and fire pension board voted for a dramatic increase in the city's contribution to the ailing pension fund.

"Before they start laying off 100 police officers or shutting down fire stations, they need to look at things like this to cut first," Sweeney said.