Commission refuses action on Rapson’s county car wreck

Fayette County Administrator Steve Rapson (L) and Commissioner Steve Brown. File photos.

A topic at the May 10 meeting of the Fayette County Commission, one introduced by Commissioner Steve Brown, dealt with Brown’s position on issues with County Administrator Steve Rapson and his 2016 wreck in a county vehicle. Two unsuccessful motions by Brown were followed by one that will have the use of law enforcement-type blue lights reviewed and brought back to the commission.

Above, Fayette County Administrator Steve Rapson (L) and Commission Steve Brown. File photos.

Brown at the outset of the agenda item stated concerns about what he said was Rapson’s use of county vehicles, the 2016 accident, his non-disclosure of the accident to the full commission board and the actions taken following the accident without a vote by commissioners.

Brown in a prepared letter said he was approached months ago by a county employee noting a 2016 wreck in which Rapson was driving a county vehicle. Brown said meetings with other county supervisors confirmed the wreck.

Brown maintained that Rapson refused to fill out the appropriate county form that would be reviewed by his supervisor, the commissioners, and that Rapson refused to go before the county’s safety committee. Brown said Rapson sent a March 3, 2016 memo to the accident review committee stating that he would not go before the committee and that he is not accountable to county policy and did not copy commissioners on the memo.

Rapson in the March 3, 2016 memo to the Vehicle Accident Review Committee said, “While operating my county vehicle, I was involved in a motor vehicle accident on January 21, 2016 at approximately 7:35 a.m. Generally, motor vehicle accidents involving county-owned vehicles are reviewed by this committee to determine whether the accident was preventable and, if so, what penalty should be meted out as a result. I have been advised that the county administrator’s position does not fall within this policy, but feel my actions warrant the same kind of accident review as all employees of Fayette County would receive.

“While I was not charged with the accident, I do feel this was a preventable accident and if routed through the same process would yield a value of 14 points which equate to a recommendation of a 4-day suspension. I am voluntarily agreeing to this penalty and have taken immediate actions to deduct those 4 days of personal leave from my personal leave bank.”

Brown’s take on Rapson’s letter followed in the discussion.

“In an almost delusional attitude, Rapson imposed his own modest penalty against himself (deducting four personal days) in some sort of weak gesture of justice for rendering himself unaccountable to the system and his supervisors,” Brown said.

Brown said he was told that parts from a sheriff’s vehicle were used to make the repair to Rapson’s vehicle and that Rapson’s vehicle had blue law enforcement-type lights in his vehicle.

Brown in the letter said the issue had not been brought to the full commission, adding that then-Chairman Chuck Oddo and, presumably, then-Vice Chairman Randy Ognio were aware of the situation.

Brown then made a motion that Rapson be fully subject to all county government policies and procedures pertaining to county vehicles and the employee safety manual regulations pertaining to county vehicles and that Rapson’s contract be amended unless he opted to forfeit his use of county vehicles.

Dennis Davenport. File Photo.
Dennis Davenport. File Photo.

Asked his opinion on the motion, county attorney Dennis Davenport said the motion was not proper because Rapson is the county administrator, with an agreed upon contract. A unilateral attempt to amend that contract would not be appropriate, though commissioners could opt to re-negotiate the contract.

That said, the motion did not receive a second.

Brown then stated another motion, that commissioners enter into a renegotiation of Rapson’s contract so that he would be subject to all county policies and procedures pertaining to county vehicles and the safety manual or forfeit the use of county vehicles.

Asked by Commissioner Charles Rousseau what impact the motion had in light of a past agreement that commissioners would govern according to county policy, Davenport said Brown’s second motion was the same as the first motion using different words.

Davenport continued, saying that Rapson at the Jan. 31 meeting, “volunteered to subject himself to all county policies and procedures. In effect, his contract was amended that night by his acceptance. So the policies and procedures manual, per the board and per Mr. Rapson, are part of his contract.”

After some discussion, Brown withdrew the motion.

Brown then made a motion that blue lights be removed from Rapson’s vehicle and that such lights apply to POST (law enforcement) certified individuals. Rousseau seconded the motion.

Asked by Maxwell about blue lights in his vehicle, Rapson said blue lights are legal and can be authorized by persons such as a commissioner, an EMA director or a sheriff.

“In this particular case, Chairman Brown authorized them in 2013 when he signed the form and sent it to the state. So those lights are authorized. So I don’t want anyone to think we’re doing anything against state law,” Rapson said.

Rapson said the only time in the past six years where he used blue lights was during a fire in Fayetteville when the fire chief and EMA director were with him and it allowed them to get into the perimeter of the fire.

Davenport commenting on the motion said it could be problematic since the situation could arise where non-certified individuals might be eligible to have a vehicle with blue lights consistent with state law. The motion would be in conflict with state law if that is the case, he said.

Rapson then produced the form that Brown signed in 2013.

“If (blue lights) are permissible and if he hasn’t abused it, why are we saying he (should not have them in his vehicle)? Why now after five or six years,” Oddo asked Brown. “What happened to cause this motion?”

Brown referred to a newspaper article on the topic “where officials say you have to be law enforcement or fire.”

Maxwell soon called for the vote, which was 1-3 opposed and with Brown the lone vote in favor and Rousseau abstaining.

Davenport will provide information on the legalities of blue lights on an upcoming agenda.