Councilman’s iPad stance causes stir

Nov. 26, 2012 @ 05:26 PM

Outgoing Ward 3 City Councilman Mike Pugh has dropped plans to wage a fight over his city-issued iPad.
Pugh said Monday he plans to return the device when he goes off council next week following his loss to Judy Mendenhall in the Nov. 6 election. He initially wanted to keep the iPad and did not intend to pay the city for it when his term expires.
Pugh said he has information on his iPad that he would like to keep confidential that can never be erased from the hard drive. He said there is nothing inappropriate on it and that the material he wants to keep pertains to his official duties as a council member.
He and other council members who accepted a city-issued iPad signed agreements acknowledging that the devices are public property that must be returned at the end of their terms or purchased for a depreciated value of $300.
After Pugh declined to do either, the city deducted the $300 cost from his council paycheck earlier this month. That rankled Pugh because it was done without his authorization, he said. He consulted an attorney, who advised him that he was entitled to $600 – double the amount deducted – in damages by law, he said.
Pugh said he doesn’t think he should have to pay for the iPad because he hasn’t spent his budgeted travel money and has never used city health insurance, as some other council members have. That has saved the city thousands of dollars over the years – far more than what a used iPad is worth, he argues.
He has since decided, he said, not to pursue the double refund and will give the iPad back.
“They should have never taken my money,” said Pugh. “I thought it was just done deliberately. I’m going to take the high road. If it’s going to break the city, let’s don’t go that way.”
He said he blamed City Manager Strib Boynton, with whom he has sometimes clashed during his seven years on council, for the deduction. Boynton said the deduction was made without his knowledge, consent or approval and “should not have happened” without the matter first being reviewed by the full council.
Former City Attorney Fred Baggett, now a legal consultant for the city, gave authorization for the deduction after Boynton’s assistant said a decision on the matter was needed. Boynton was out of town on business at the time.
The city refunded the $300 to Pugh on Nov. 20, one day after the council determined that he should either return it or keep it and pay for it. Councilman Latimer Alexander, who did not seek re-election, has paid for his city-issued iPad and said he doesn’t think Pugh’s arguments about the iPad hold up.
“I don’t believe the issue of travel expense accounts have anything to do with the iPad. There is no understanding that unused travel can be used for any purpose other than travel directly related to City Council business,” said Alexander. “I believe the public trust us to act responsibly with their money and trust and to violate a signed agreement to return or repay will not play well.”
Mayor Becky Smothers said Pugh’s reasoning was hard to understand.
“I don’t have a city-issued iPad but if I did, I would recognize that it was city property, not mine, and should be returned or purchased at such time I was no longer entitled to have it,” she said.

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Earlier this year, High Point City Council members were offered the use of city-owned iPads for the purpose of conducting city business in an effort to reduce paper and copying costs.
The cost for each iPad is $576.41, which includes a case and keyboard.
City-owned iPads were issued to council members Latimer Alexander, Foster Douglas, Britt Moore, Mike Pugh and Bernita Sims. Mayor Becky Smothers, along with council members Jim Corey, A.B. Henley and Chris Whitley, use their personal iPads.
Four of the newly-elected council members – Jim Davis, Jason Ewing, Jeff Golden and Judy Mendenhall – have requested a city iPad. New Councilman Jay Wagner will use his own iPad.
Douglas, Moore and Sims are keeping their iPads and will continue using them in their new terms. Alexander, who goes off council next week, has paid for his iPad.