LUMBERTON — Allegations that the director of Transportation for the Public Schools of Robeson County often uses his school-issued vehicle for more than just school business has created confusion about the school system’s vehicle-use policy.
In fact, it has raised the question of whether a policy even exists.
Tasha Oxendine, the school system’s Public Relations officer, said that the system has no written policy outlining regulations for the use of vehicles assigned to the employees whose job responsibilities require them to have access to vehicles at all times. In addition to the director of Transportation, Raymond Cummings, others falling into this category include the district’s superintendent, Johnny Hunt, four assistant superintendents, and certain maintenance staff.
“For example,” Oxendine said, “the assistant superintendents drive their own vehicles to work, use their assigned vehicle during the day, and then drive home in their own vehicle.”
Oxendine added, however, that the school system does have a “vehicle fleet policy as needed for staff development.” She said this policy outlines the rules that apply to such situations as when a school employee needs a vehicle to travel to a conference or workshop.
Questions about a school vehicle policy surfaced recently after allegations were that Cummings has been seen using his car while conducting county and personal business, not just school business. As a county commissioner, Cummings receives a monthly travel stipend of $700 — the largest of any county in North Carolina.
Repeated attempts over more than a week by The Robesonian to reach Cummings for comment by both phone and email have been unsuccessful.
Norma Houston, a faculty member with the North Carolina School of Government in Chapel Hill, said it was “troubling” that the local school district does not have a policy on the use of school-owned vehicles.
“I am really surprised that there is not a policy on the use of vehicles,” she said.
In regards to Cummings using the school-owned car for county business and still collecting the $700 travel stipend from the county, there is nothing illegal, Houston said.
“There is no school policy so there is nothing for him to violate,” she said. “There is also no statutory prohibition as long as he is not violating the exclusive emolument provision in the North Carolina Constitution.”
Houston said that the exclusive emolument provision in the state constitution requires that state-owned property must be used for business that benefits the public and cannot be used to just benefit an individual.
Houston declined to give an opinion on the ethics of what appears to be double dipping of taxpayers’ money.
“At the School of Government we only comment on what is the law, not what is our opinion,” Houston said.
Hunt, the district’s superintendent, confirmed in a statement that Cummings does have a car assigned to him that he drives to work from home. The car was formerly used for drivers education.
“He (Cummings) does have a car that he drives from home and as needed throughout the day for transportation issues related to buses or transportation emergencies,” Hunt said. “He also works across the district when assisting with inclement weather.”
Some school board members were shocked and angry when they learned that there is no vehicle-use policy in place.
“This is the first time I’ve heard about there not being a policy,” said Dwayne Smith. “If there’s not, there is going to be. If a vehicle is to be used for school business, that’s what it is supposed to be used for and nothing else. It’s not to be used for county meetings that are not involving school business.”
Steve Martin, a veteran board member, said he has received several calls from residents who said that they observed Cummings using his car for reasons other than school business. He also said that one board member, whom he would not identify, approached the superintendent at last week’s Board of Education meeting about the issue.
“This is an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed,” Martin said.
Mike Smith, the board’s vice chairman, said that he is sure that Hunt and other top administrators have told other employees what should be done in regards to vehicle use. It is an issue that has been raised in past years, he said.
“I don’t know if we need a policy, but it’s something we may have to look at,” Smith said.
John Campbell, a board member for about 18 years, called concerns raised about the alleged misuse of a school vehicle by the transportation director as a “wake-up call.”
“I thought we had a policy in place. I thought we had addressed this issue years ago,” he said. “If there is no policy, there needs to be one.”
Campbell said that it might be prudent to include in any policy a provision exempting the Transportation director from some of the restrictions placed on others for using a car. He cited the Transportation director’s need to often handle emergency bus problems and inclement weather as reasons for special consideration.
According to Campbell, however, even if the district currently has no specific policy regulating vehicle use, those having cars assigned to them should use common sense in deciding when and for what purposes the vehicles should be used.
“Barring a policy, there are certain judgments to follow,” Campbell said. “We may not be able to say that what the director (Cummings) has done is in violation of policy, but if the allegations are true, they show a lack of judgment.”