Why Did Joseph Duda Burn 1,350 Gallons Of Gas In His City Car Last Year?

1908_Ford_Model_TCity Commissioner Joseph Duda used 1,350 gallons of gas in his city-owned sedan in fiscal year 2010, at a cost to taxpayers of $2,860, according to city documents. That’s nearly a third of the 4,277 gallons total consumed by the Commissioners’ Office.

Duda and Commission Chair Marge Tartaglione are the only folks in the Commissioners’ Office with take-home cars, but Tartaglione only used 68 gallons—and third Commissioner Anthony Clark doesn’t take a city car home at all.

Why? We don’t know, because for some reason neither Duda nor anyone else in the Commissioners’ Office will return phone calls. Since Duda wouldn’t respond to repeated messages left over a period of several weeks, we are left to speculate about what he’s up to. According to tax records, he lives way, way out in the tip of the Northeast, so let’s say he’s got a 40-mile round-trip commute every day. If he comes into the office 365 days a year (there are about 260 workdays in a year if you take no holidays and no vacation, but maybe he’s a workaholic), that’s about 14,600 miles, which would account for the fuel use if the city sedan is giving him 10.8 miles per gallon, which we certainly hope isn’t the case.

At a more reasonable 20 mpg that’s about 27,000 miles put on the car, all presumably on city business. If Duda works a normal 260 days, that averages over 100 miles per day. What else could he be doing? Driving around inspecting polling stations? Encouraging people to get out and vote? Business trips to San Diego? Who knows!

In total, 203 city employees excluding police and a few other exceptions had access to take-home cars in FY10, according to the documents. That includes 10 Council members, two commissioners, a whole lot of Streets, Water and Park and Rec employees, but not Mayor Nutter, who used money from his campaign fund to buy his own car, according to the Mayor’s Press Office.  Employees with take-home car access used, on average, 685 gallons of gas, all of which is paid for by the Fleet Management Department.

Now, Duda didn’t use the most gas out of everybody—there are 19 other city employees with take-home cars who guzzled more, but they all work for Parks, Recreation, Streets or Water Departments, and have job descriptions that make sense for a person driving all around the city, like a Sewer Maintenance Crew Chief or Urban Forestry Technician.

According to longtime Fleet Management Administrative Director Robert Fox, the department keeps track of fuel usage for all vehicles but doesn’t control consumption or ask questions, leaving that up to individual agencies and departments. “We don’t really weigh in on that,” Fox says. “We make that information available to the departments, but that’s as far as we go.”

For example, within the Streets Department, the Deputy Commissioner makes a decision on who gets take home cars, and the Commissioner has to approve it, according to Deputy Commissioner for Administration Mike Zaccagni. Rather than monitoring specific fuel usage, the department keeps an eye on how long employees take to finish specific routes and how much overtime they are using to prevent misconduct, Zaccagni says.

So, presumably, there’s somebody in the Commissioners’ Office who keeps track of this stuff, too, but as we’ve learned, they aren’t very forthright about sharing that or any information with the public. But certainly, no one would accuse the Commissioners’ Office of lacking accountability. Never.

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