PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) – Van Buren County commissioners are again voicing concerns about the sheriff’s use of county property.
This time officials are targeting the sheriff’s decision to use his county-provided SUV to take several high school students to baseball camp in Georgia. The early April trip spanned several days.
Longtime Sheriff Dale Gribler also serves as the varsity baseball coach for Lawrence High School. Gribler admits that he’s used his company vehicle to take students on the annual baseball trip for years.
Gribler contends that the vehicle is provided to him for personal use without restriction, but some county commissioners don’t agree.
“Shame on him,” said Van Buren County Commissioner Mike Henry. “We expect the elected officials, the appointed officials, and all employees of this county to know county policy – period.”
Van Buren County vehicle policy obtained by 24 Hour News 8 addresses the use of county owned vehicles.
“No County-owned vehicle shall be used for personal business,” the policy reads in a section entitled “FORBIDDEN ACTIVITIES”.
The policy also forbids anyone “except a County employee or person being transported for County business” from riding in vehicles owned by the county.
In a Thursday afternoon phone interview, Gribler said he doesn’t believe the policy applies to county officials like him who are given a company vehicle to take home and use all of the time.
“That vehicle has been assigned to me … for 30 years for personal business,” Gribler said. “If it is not the wishes of the board anymore to use it in that manner, than we will respect that and abide by those rules.”
Commissioner Henry says the policy applies to all county-owned vehicles.
“To my knowledge, no request for an exception to policy was received nor granted,” Henry said. “When you have your chief law enforcement officer failing to comply with county policy…it is just troubling.”
Commissioner Mike Toth agrees.
“County vehicles are insured by the county and specifically for county business, Toth said. “Personal business is not county business.”
The relationship between Gribler and the county commission has been strained for at least the past several months after allegations surfaced regarding Gribler’s use of his county credit card and clothing allowance.
Gribler had reportedly overspent his budget allotted for clothing and even purchased a suit for his son. Gribler’s attorney told 24 Hour News 8 that the suit his son received was a “free” suit that came with the purchase of another.
Gribler didn’t need an extra suit, but the salesman encouraged him to take it because it was free. He decided to give it to his son.
The budget had been overspent because Gribler said he hadn’t used his clothing allowance in the years preceding the purchase.
Michigan State Police conducted an investigation and forwarded the case to a special prosecutor, who decided that no crime had been committed.
The board later released a scathing letter to the sheriff and some members called for his resignation.
Inside woodtv.com: Read the full letter from the commissioners to Gribler (pdf)
Toth and Henry say the issue with the SUV is more of the same behavior.
“What it does is it confirms a trend, a negative trend… that troubles me,” Henry said. “I think his previous actions speak for themselves and this adds fuel to the fire. I think he ought to resign.”
Gribler said he hoped to meet with the chair of the commission to discuss the concerns surrounding his vehicle use next week. He said no one had approached him directly regarding any problems with his use of the SUV.
Because Gribler is an elected official, there is little the board of commissioners can do about their concerns.
“Only the citizens of this county can remove him,” Henry said. “”The rank and file — the employees that work within the sheriff’s department — deserve better.”
County administrators were working to learn whether or not there are liability issues with transporting others in county-owned vehicles.