Mayor Campbell S.U.V. Controversy - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Mayor Campbell S.U.V. Controversy

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1. Even with likely layoffs, mayor's husband driving city-owned SUV

CLEVELAND - At a time when Mayor Jane Campbell is threatening to lay off hundreds of city workers including firefighters and police officers, 19 Action News has learned that her husband is driving a fully-loaded SUV at taxpayers' expense.

The Investigator, Tom Meyer, had an exclusive, eye-opening report.

19 Action News hidden cameras spotted Campbell's husband on his way home from Youngstown State University, where he's director of urban studies.

Hunter Morrison drives a city-owned, high-end, 2003 Ford Explorer. The vehicle has top-of-the-line tires, keyless entry -- the works.

Morrison doesn't work for the city of Cleveland, but he's still behind the wheel of a city-owned vehicle, and a nice one at that!

When asked what he would say if he found out that the city assigned the mayor's husband an SUV to drive around, city firefighters' union head Bob Fisher said, "I'd be floored."

Firefighters are fuming because it's the mayor who is threatening layoffs across the city, including fire and police.

When it comes to the mayor's husband, one shouldn't confuse the brand new Explorer 19 Action News saw him driving with the chauffer-driven Crown Victoria that takes the mayor anywhere she wants to go.

There are actually two different city-owned Crown Vics specifically assigned to transport the mayor.

"It's a top-of-the-line car," Fisher pointed out.

He was shocked to see 19 Action News video of Morrison making the 90-mile trek from Youngstown to Cleveland in a luxury, city-owned SUV.

"How can we continue to say the sky is falling -- that we have a financial crisis -- and we're not going through with a fine-tooth comb in cutting expenses that are unnecessary?" Fisher asked.

The Investigator did manage to catch up with the mayor following a function she attended in Cleveland. She tried to duck the 19 Action News crew by sending her driver around to another side of the building. That's where Meyer found her, waiting for her driver.

When asked how she could justify an expensive perk for her husband when she's thinking of laying off employees, Campbell said, "It's a family car - a city car that was part of the mayor's compensation package."

That's when the conversation (pictured, above) was abruptly cut short by the mayor's agitated driver and bodyguard, who slammed the mayor's door close, almost hitting The Investigator in the process.

The driver/bodyguard decided that the mayor said enough and ended the interview with force. Campbell did nothing to stop him.

Some council members, including Ward 16 councilman Mike O'Malley, criticize the use of many city cars, calling them nothing more than perks.

"We really need to look at trimming those types of expenses before we look at cutting safety forces," O'Malley said.

In a statement faxed to 19 Action News, Campbell said she and her family pay for gasoline personally. The statement also said that the mayor has the same number and type of vehicles assigned to her as her predecessor, including "a vehicle for family use."

The firefighters' union had this reaction.

"Let's continue to do things that don't make sense, especially when we're talking about laying people off," Fisher said.

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2. 19 Action News digs deeper into city's vehicle controversy

CLEVELAND - The Action News Investigator, Tom Meyer, exclusively reported that Mayor Jane Campbell's husband continued to drive around in a fully-loaded, luxury, city-owned SUV despite the fact that the city's financial crisis might lead to layoffs of safety forces. That revelation led The Investigator to dig even deeper.

Why do city officials need to drive expensive city cars?

For example, a brand new Ford Expedition is assigned to the mayor's Chief Development Officer Tim Mueller. Why does he need such a fancy city car, if one at all?

A city-owned Ford Taurus belongs to Clerk of Courts Earle Turner. Why?

The list goes on. City cars, just to drive to and from home, are costing taxpayers a small fortune -- more than $5 million, in fact.

City council members say it might be time to cut out these perks instead of laying off any city employee.

"We need to look at all areas, and this is certainly a big area to look at," Ward 16 councilman Mike O'Malley said.

Will Campbell lead the way?

The brand new, fully-loaded SUV that her husband drives to his job in Youngstown is among a fleet of four city cars assigned to the mayor. There are two chauffer-driven Crown Victorias to shuttle the mayor around town, a Dodge Durango for the kids and a high-end Ford Explorer for her husband, Hunter Morrison, and the family.

The purchase price alone for the four mayoral vehicles is nearly $100,000, and that doesn't include maintenance and repairs.

"It makes no sense to me that the mayor's spouse should have a vehicle, especially when we're talking about laying people off," firefighters' union head Bob Fisher said.

Following the 19 Action News report that exposed the city's vehicle situation, Campbell stated that "all city cars are under scrutiny" during a City Hall news conference. It was the first time that she said all city cars were being looked at.

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3. Mayor turns in city-owned, luxury SUV; Firefighters say it's about time

CLEVELAND - The Investigator, Tom Meyer, exclusively broke the story of Mayor Jane Campbell's husband driving around in a city-owned, luxury SUV even though Cleveland is in such bad financial shape that layoffs to safety forces are almost a certainty.

Weeks later, the mayor announced that she had turned in that city-owned vehicle. Firefighters said it's about time.

Before you start applauding Campbell for turning the SUV back in, you get the feeling she did it half-heartedly.

It was big news at City Hall when Campbell described the worst financial times for the city of Cleveland since default. With all of the bleak news, she also announced to a packed room of reporters, photographers and city officials that her family is returning the controversial city-owned Ford Explorer to the city fleet.

Her husband, Hunter Morrison, had been using the brand new, fully loaded SUV for his 180-mile daily commute to his job in Youngstown.

During a one-on-one interview, the mayor was asked why she decided to give up the expensive car.

"I didn't want to hear any more stupid questions," she said. "I've got a lot of important work to do."

When answering that question, Campbell glanced up at her staff, apparently checking to see what they thought of her response.

The firefighters, many of whom will be given pink slips, didn't think much of it, saying 19 Action News stories on the SUV were the only reason that the mayor gave the car back to the city.

"There are things that should have been done since Day 1," firefighters' union head Bob Fisher said. "We've had two years of knowing that we were going into fiscal crisis, and what we do is hope we're going to come out of it and continue to spend money."

Campbell still has three city cars at her disposal -- two to shuttle her around town and one to take her children to school. It's her husband who will now have to find his own transportation.

Apparently, that won't be a problem, thanks again to the city. 19 Action News learned that the mayor called on police to drive her husband from Hopkins International Airport to home, which is just a couple of blocks from the Shaker Square rapid.

When asked if that was true, Campbell said that "as part of the mayor's security detail, the police officers assigned to protection of our family do provide rides."

The mayor seemed to think it was a big deal that the city spent only $29 on maintenance for the SUV. Keep in mind, it is a brand new car that should require little, if any maintenance.

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4. Mayor returns vehicle back to city, looks for ways to minimize layoffs

CLEVELAND - Mayor Jane Campbell announced that she would return the city-owned SUV that her husband had been driving back to Cleveland's fleet of vehicles, and now she'll turn her focus to other cars that the city could do without.

The Investigator, Tom Meyer, took the initiative to expose who else is getting a free ride on the taxpayer dime.

As Campbell plans to cut more than 700 city jobs, she's looking at other ways to minimize the number of layoffs.

"I gave back the mayor's personal vehicle," she announced last week.

In addition to the city-owned, fully-loaded SUV that she returned to the city, she's looking at all city cars. The city might be able to save a huge chunk of cash once a city study is complete.

"We're trying to make sure that anyone who has a car has a car because it's cheaper for them to have a car than to reimburse them for the mileage that they drive on behalf of the citizens of Cleveland," Campbell said.

Some council members told Action News to look not only at who's driving city cars, but to look at the types of cars they're driving. Brand new Ford Expeditions and other, expensive SUVs are among the city's fleet.

"Do airport employees really need Durangos?" Ward 16 councilman Mike O'Malley asked. "They cost a lot in gas and to operate and to buy."

As the city looks to cut city cars, they'll be looking at employees assigned to drive them. People like Chief Development Officer Tim Mueller, Municipal Court Judge Larry Jones and Clerk of Courts Earle Turner, Not to mention community activist and City Administrative Officer James Box.

When questioned about the city car assigned him to help felons find work, Box lashed out at Action News' camera, seized the microphone The Investigator was holding and hurled it on top of a downtown building's roof. Box did several thousand dollars of damage to 19 Action News equipment.

As eye-opening as Box's reaction was, some city councilmen find the number of city cars even more glaring.

"There are certainly a lot of city vehicles I didn't realize we had," O'Malley said. "They number in the thousands."

Governor Bob Taft cut the number of state cars dramatically to deal with the state's money crisis. Now the question is: Will Campbell do the same for the city? Stay tuned.

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