Claim includes 157,852 miles for past five years of commuting to work
By Daryl Kelley
Directors of the Ojai Valley’s largest water district are set to consider today a rare claim by a top manager – that he should be paid more than $61,000 in mileage reimbursements for driving his personal vehicle to work from Los Angeles County since hired in 2002.
The Casitas Municipal Water District board will discuss the request of Brian Roney, manager of the Lake Casitas Recreation Area, who claims he was treated unfairly when he was neither assigned a district vehicle nor paid for his daily commute from his home in Santa Clarita.
Casitas employees are required by district rules to submit claims for mileage within 30 days. But Roney said he was not aware that he was eligible for mileage for his commute until he reviewed district policies in June, shortly after new district general manager Steve Wickstrum was appointed.
Roney now claims he should be paid for 157,852 miles he’s driven since April 2002, and for which he’s received no reimbursement.
“There was no intent to make this claim for personal gain, only that which was allowed by district policy,” Roney wrote to Wickstrum in a July 31 memo. “My claim is really about fairness and the equitable administration of a district policy.”
But Wickstrum, in a memo to the board, said Roney had misread district policy: “The claim is not valid and should be denied.”
“The reimbursement for expenses to travel between work and home are not provided for unless specifically referenced — there is no specific reference to that compensation in this case.”
The policy Roney is relying upon relates only to district vehicles, not personal ones, and Roney has never been assigned a district vehicle, Wickstrum reported.
“The board should also consider that their approval of the claim, or any compromised settlement, can lead to unintended consequences such as a precedent setting that will lead to the same type of mileage reimbursement claims, raise the question for others that use their personal vehicle to travel on a daily basis, and will undermine the authority given to the general manager,” Wickstrum wrote.
“None of these consequences should be acceptable to the district.”
But Roney, who makes $118,000 a year as recreation manager, cited two documents in memos to Wickstrum, in making his case for reimbursement.
He maintained that when Casitas offered him a management job five years ago, the offer letter indicated that miles driven with his personal vehicle were reimburseable. Indeed that March 27, 2002 letter to Roney said: “You will be reimbursed mileage for the miles driven in your personal car …”
But it makes no reference to commuting miles.
Roney also cites the district’s policy and procedure manual as it relates to “Use of District Vehicles.”
That policy says that district vehicles will only be driven as assigned by the general manager. And it specifically recognizes that four top management positions, including Roney’s “are not limited to a 40-hour week.”
“With respect to these employees, travel to and from work shall be deemed to be official district business and vehicles assigned to each of these employees” can be used during off-duty hours and to commute to work, the policy says.
While Wickstrum argued that this policy pertains only to district vehicles, Roney maintained that it should apply to his circumstance because previous general manager John Johnson denied his request for use of a district vehicle every year “due to disagreements with the previous park services manager.”
“At the last meeting I had with (Johnson), he directed me to ‘take it up with the new GM’,” Roney wrote in his last memo to Wickstrum. “It was during the preparation of material to submit to you that I discovered that the wording indicates that I am eligible for mileage reimbursement.”
Roney also maintains that since district policy cites his job as one of four for which managers may use district vehicles to commute and for emergencies, he should have been assigned a vehicle, and now should receive past-due mileage.
“I am merely requesting that this policy be enforced fairly and evenly across the district, as my classification has been denied application of the policy by the general manager,” he wrote. “It could be construed that (Johnson) violated this policy by not allowing the park services manager … to use a district vehicle as authorized by board policy.”
Roney requested that his claim be considered by the full board of directors.