Audit finds excessive use of state vehicles by DMV workers

Carolina Journal – A state Division of Motor Vehicles inspector violated agency policy by improperly collecting pay for a 3 ½-hour daily commute, costing the state $85,000. He attributed his misdeeds to working for “a paramilitary organization,” according to an investigative report released Tuesday by State Auditor Beth Wood.

Auditors called on the Department of Transportation’s Inspector General to perform a review of all assigned state vehicles to identify other potential commuting violations.

Responding to the audit, the state Department of Administration said its motor fleet management staff is installing GPS tracking systems in state-owned vehicles to increase monitoring. The computerized telecommunications devices should be in all vehicles by the end of the fiscal year.

The tracking devices are expected to eliminate unauthorized vehicle use, track fuel and miles driven, improve driver safety and liability concerns, decrease maintenance costs, help prevent vehicle theft, and increase accountability.

The Office of State Controller amended its policies in response to that situation, and the case of another DMV employee who received $5,616 in improper personal benefits from private use of a state car. The policy revision is to ensure management and supervisors know what daily activities an employee performs before approving their work time.

According to the audit, Tim McLawhorn of Washington, a DMV inspector in the License and Theft Bureau, was assigned to a duty station in Greenville.

But he drove to Raleigh daily, totaling 91,000 miles from January 2014 through December 2016, to work on special projects for the former DOT commissioner and deputy commissioner, neither of whom was named in the report. Kelly Thomas was commissioner during that time. Randy Dishong was deputy commissioner.

That commute violated a policy requiring employees assigned a state vehicle to live within 50 miles of the county line of their work station. McLawhorn was paid for commute time from Beaufort County to Raleigh. Combined with wear and tear on the vehicle, costs totaled $85,000, the audit said.

“When somebody tells you to do something, you just go do it. It’s a paramilitary organization, you don’t question people,” McLawhorn told auditors when asked about the infraction.

When his supervisor was asked why he approved the improper work time, he told auditors “you don’t really ask too many questions” when an employee is assigned to the commissioner’s office.

In the other case, Stacy Wooten of Winston-Salem, a DMV Central Regional Zone chief, used a state vehicle to commute from her home to the Winston-Salem office from January 2014 through January 2017. That violated state policy requiring employees to reimburse the state for personal use mileage through payroll deduction. Auditors called for Wooten to repay those costs.

In response, DMV Commissioner Torre Jessup said “it appears inequitable to require reimbursement after such a long period of time,” but the money either would be repaid or the employee’s W-2 statement amended to reflect the additional taxable income.

DMV issued a statement Tuesday acknowledging the “thorough audit of vehicle usage in the previous administration. As a result of this audit, we are working to strengthen our policies and procedures to ensure this does not happen again.”