ATLANTA - A Channel 2 Action News investigation found a top state official using a take-home state car to commute thousands of miles a year and not complying with rules the governor's office directed him to follow when the deal was authorized.
Channel 2 investigative reporter Richard Belcher said Department of Juvenile Justice Commissioner Avery Niles claims he needs the car at home to respond to emergencies, but the department can't document any emergency call-ins for Niles.
Niles parks his assigned Chevy Impala in a slot right in front of DJJ’s DeKalb County headquarters and uses it to drive to and from his home north of Gainesville.
Gov. Nathan Deal's chief operating officer approved the arrangement early this year and directed Niles not once, but twice, in the same email that use of the vehicle should be within state guidelines.
However, Belcher obtained the guidelines and discovered Niles is not complying with the rules that require any state official taking a vehicle home every day to have at least 12 call-ins every year. Niles can document none.
Niles claims his job requires him to respond regularly to the scene of emergencies like a 2011 riot at the Dekalb Regional Youth Detention Center.
Belcher asked the commissioner's top deputy for the dates and times of the commissioner's call-ins but got no response.
In a report filed in July, Niles said he used the car for 10 visits to juvenile justice facilities but on the same form he said he's required to respond directly to the scene of emergencies.
The use of a take-home car is a nice perk for Niles, who used it to commute 6,400 miles from February through July. That's an average of 1,067 miles each month.
Using the IRS reimbursement rate of 56.5 cents per mile, his commuting is worth over $600 a month -- a figure the department does not dispute.
In July, Niles certified that he'd use the car for zero commuting miles during the last budget year, but when Belcher started asking questions, he filed another report acknowledging more than 5,000 commuting miles through June of this year.
The department admits he made the change because of our inquiry.
Juvenile justice officials sent an email to Belcher late Tuesday that said, "The commissioner is duly authorized for a take-home vehicle." The statement does not address the issue of his emergency call-ins.
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