MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Memphis' budget crunch didn't stop its mayor from getting a new luxury Cadillac, costing taxpayers more than $1,200 a month. ABC 24 Senior Investigator Jeni Diprizio breaks down the costs and how they compare to other cities.
People have said Wharton needs the fancy car to make a good impression. The nicer the car, the better the city looks to outsiders who may want to move their businesses here. That sounds good, until you look at what other mayors of southeast cities drive.
Mayor A C Wharton spends a lot of time on the road going from one public appearance to another. He's tooling around town in a 2013 XTS, valued at almost $60,000. It's top of the line and filled the latest technology.
It's a move that irked city council members from the start. Wharton's old taxpayer-funded car was a 2010 Cadillac.
"Money is tight for city government and tight for the taxpayers and we ought to do everything we can to squeeze every ounce of value out of every penny," said Councilman Jim Strickland.
Councilman Kemp Conrad added, "I think most taxpayers would agree that this is not the best use of priorities and doesn't send the right message."
The city put almost $2,300 down on the car and is paying just over $1,200 a month.
Trey Moore is Director of Policy for the Beacon Center, a Tennessee watchdog group that monitors government waste.
"That seems a little excessive for a vehicle," he said, "why is a vehicle lease for a mayor in Memphis dramatically higher than it would be Louisville or Atlanta or Nashville? So, it leads you to ask more questions."
In Louisville the mayor drives a 2010 hybrid Ford Escape. The city bought it for around $25,000.
The Birmingham mayor drives a $42,000 2012 Chevy Suburban.
The Charlotte mayor doesn't have a city issued car; he drives his own 2005 Volvo, but gets a $4,800 a year car allowance.
The mayor of Atlanta also doesn't have a city-issued car, but is driven around by security in one of two Yukon Denalis.
Finally, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean drives his own car, or sometimes takes the bus to work. He doesn't have a city-issued car, but security drives him around town in a black unmarked police SUV.
The common thread in these southeast cities is that all the city-issued cars are owned by the city, not leased.
"Why is Memphis on a lease situation if they are spending that kind of money?" asked Moore.
He's got a point. Wharton's lease allows him to drive 25,000 miles a year, plus the city pre-purchased another 20,000 miles at 20 cents a mile.
"It gets down to the fact the city made a mistake and they should not have leased this brand new car. The city should have purchased a two year old mid sized economy car that can get you from point A to point C," noted Strickland.
Wharton defends the decision. "My instruction to them was get the best deal. They assured me this was the best deal."
When asked if it was a good use of taxpayer money, Wharton replied, "Is it a good use of money in terms of what? What do you want to compare it with - if there are better deals out there let's do it. If someone can show me how we can get a better use of the taxpayer's dollars, I'm open to it."
You heard it: a challenge to taxpayers straight from the mayor's mouth. If you have an idea, email him; I am sure he would love to hear from you.