Catoosa County officials marginally approved a vehicle purchase for the county manager’s office despite reluctance from two commissioners and criticism from the public.

During the Board of Commissioner’s meeting on Feb. 5, the board awarded an out-of-town bid for the new SUV after multiple residents questioned the purchase in the public appearances portion of the meeting.

Former commissioner Ray Johnson was the first to offer advice.

“I do hope y’all reconsider about this car and really think it through” Johnson said.

Resident Cherise Miller, who also serves on the library’s board of trustees, said the purchase is unnecessary.

“I presume this vehicle is for the county manager since that department is the one requesting it,” Miller said. “To my knowledge, we have never purchased a special vehicle for any other county manager. Why are we doing it now? The county should not be wasting money by purchasing new, expensive vehicles for anyone in our county government. I know that there must be other cars in the county available for the county manager to drive.”

When the vehicle purchase came up on the agenda, Public Works Projects Inspector Jeremy Bryson presented the bid recommendation to the board.

“We had an invitation to bid back in January for a Ford Edge or Explorer,” Bryson said. “The bids were opened on Jan. 31. We received several bids and after everything was evaluated and taken into account, the staff is recommending King Ford from Murphy, N.C., for a 2019 Ford Edge in the amount of $41,485.”

Commissioner Jim Cutler inquired about potential issues with some dealerships not having the vehicle readily available. Bryson confirmed that some of the 2019 models simply aren’t available right now.

“There’s an issue. They’re not manufacturing some of the 2019s for some time, so there are some issues with availability on some of those,” Bryson said.

Chairman Steven Henry explained the county’s preference to go with a Ford vehicle.

“We want to try to stay with one Ford manufacturer because we have better service,” Henry said.

Bryson added that the overwhelming majority of county vehicles are Fords.

“Most of our fleet is Ford,” Bryson said. “So everything we have inventory-wise … we don’t have to have specialized equipment, computer software, certified mechanics, things along those lines. It’s more practical to stay within the same vendor. We do all of our own fleet maintenance in house.”

Chairman Henry asked for a role call vote, at which time he and Commissioners Jeff Long and Jim Cutler voted yes, while newly elected Commissioners Charlie Stephens and Chuck Harris voted no.

When new County Manager Alisha Vaughn was hired in September, County Attorney Chad Young pointed out that one of the only real differences between Vaughn’s contract and that of her predecessor, Jim Walker, was that she would not have a monthly “take home” vehicle allowance.

“There is no vehicle allowance in this one,” Young said Sept. 4. “She’s able to use a county car while she’s here for county business, but not to drive back and forth to home.”

Resident George Battersby added that he personally didn’t have a problem with the vehicle purchase since the previous county manager received a monthly vehicle allowance.

“A guy that shouldn’t have even been here, you gave him a car allowance of $500 a month, which more than covered a $40,000 car,” Battersby said.

Adam Cook is a general assignment reporter and covers the Walker-Catoosa County area. He has been a reporter since 2009. He can be reached at The Catoosa County News office at 706-935-2621 and by email at acook@npco.com.